Feel your feelings
I recently read a Times article that explored the link between a diverse emotional experience and inflammation, and found that people who report more diversity in their positive emotional experience also have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies.
While some of the conclusions that can be drawn from this article are unclear (the study can’t prove that there aren’t other factors increasing or reducing inflammation for participants), the part that stood out to me was the quote from the lead researcher Anthony Ong, professor at Cornell: “When it comes to infusing more diverse positive emotions into our lives, it may turn out to be a simple daily practice of labeling and categorizing positive emotions in discrete terms… Pay attention to your inner emotions and be able to mentally recognize situations that make you feel calm versus, say, excited.”
In short, simply paying attention to and naming positive emotions can increase the benefit of those emotions. Rather than just noticing when you feel joyful or happy, also search out moments of peace, focus, interest, or understanding. Take a look at a list of emotions, identify the ones you’d prefer to feel throughout the day, and then actively seek out moments when you already experience them.
In my own practice, I’ve seen what a powerful shift this can create. Aside from the potential physical health benefits, clients who search out their positive experiences, celebrate their successes, and actively seek the upside constantly report they are happier, more satisfied, and less anxious. Our brains are designed to notice the negatives- when there is a problem, we are typically aware of it pretty quickly. The opposite is not true, however. For most, when we solve a problem, when we are contentedly absorbed in a task, or feel calm, we treat it as though “that’s what’s supposed to happen!” and brush it off or don’t even notice it to begin with. When something is out of our awareness, it naturally has less of an impact, which can result in feeling overwhelmed with negatives because that is all that really registers. Over time, you can train your brain to be more aware of the flip side, but at first it does take some effort and intention. Give yourself the opportunity to savor the moments in life that are enjoyable, and you will reap the rewards- both emotionally and physically!