Digestible work from Barbara Fredrickson and narrated by Aria Edwards.
Is it really possible that positive emotions and love are far much more than fleeting nice feelings? Can love actually improve our health? Can positive emotions create new opportunities for personal growth and societal change? With the ground breaking work of Barbara Fredrickson we will explore the true potential of love.
How Does Love Improve Heart Health?
Now, it is time to take love off this romantic pedestal and clear away the Cupids and the cartoon hearts and help you see love from the perspective of science. Now, for know some of you might be bristling thinking, what a killjoy. Adding science to the mix need not take the sparkle, out of love. And in fact, that’s what can help you learn how to make love all day long. So to take you where the science is leading, we don’t want you to be thinking about love abstractly staying up here in your head. We don’t want you to be thinking about love and loin staying below the belt. Okay we would like you to meet us in the middle. Meet me at your heart.
Dear listener and reader, please now go ahead, put your hand on your heart. Feel, feel it. Yours is not a cartoon heart. It’s that reliable muscle beating away in your chest. Now, one thing we tend to forget about love is that it’s an emotion. And the truth about emotions is that they’re fleeting. They happen in the span of a micro-moment. It’s that moment when you share a genuine positive feeling with another living being. It could be laughing with a friend or hugging your neighbour with compassion, or it could be smiling at a baby. It doesn’t even need to be your baby. It could be the baby on the plane. Now, we’ve heard this idea before. It’s not completely new.
When you really connect with another person, a beautifully choreographed biological dance is unfolding. As your smiles, gestures and postures come to mirror one another and come into sync, but when you’re really connecting with somebody else, your heart rhythms come into sink, your biochemistries come into sink, even your neural firings come into sync. It’s as if in that micro-moment, a single positive emotion is rolling across two brains and bodies at once, creating a momentary resonance of good feeling and goodwill between you. Now, what’s more is that as you have more of these micro moments of connection in your daily life, it changes you, it, it changes you for the better, not just socially and psychologically, but also physically.
Your vagus nerve emerges from your brainstem and tethers your brain to your heart. And one of its jobs is to slow your racing heart after a fright. But when your vagus nerve is functioning really well, it also slows your heart rate just a bit each time you exhale. It reflects your body’s ability to regulate inflammation, it, to regulate glucose as well as your heart rate. And it also establishes your biological capacity for connection. Now, scientists used to think that your vagus nerve functioning was rather stable, kind of like your height once you’re an adult. But what we’ve discovered is that if you find ways to increase your daily diet of these micro moments of connection each day, your vagus nerve functioning improves.
The very rhythms of your heart become healthier. So these micro-moments of connection are positive health behaviours every bit as much as eating your vegetables, eating your kale, or, being physically active. But, and, and how much more enjoyable and easy is connecting than doing some of the other health behaviours that we need to do. And this isn’t just about your health because when you are really connecting with someone else, your heart is getting a mini tune up and so is theirs. So you are wired to connect. And what we’re learning is that the vagus nerve is a key part of that wiring, but I don’t want you to be thinking about this wiring as, mechanical wiring that stays the same season to season. This is living tissue. Your vagus nerve is living tissue, and it changes season to season depending on your habits, your habits of connection.
The more you connect, the more you fortify this wiring to connect, and the more you lower your odds of having a heart attack and increase your odds of living a long, happy and healthy life. When these discoveries suggest that these connections are biological imperatives, they give you life in the same way that the right combination of sunlight, soil, and earth gives life’s to plants. Now, this is the evidence that, pushed me to elevate these micro moments of connection and put them on that revered pedestal that we call love.
Love isn’t just that lightning bolt experience that connects you to your soulmate, no less life changing. It’s also that simple, genuine smile that you can share with anybody all day long. Now, this isn’t just some ivory tower exercise of remapping definitions. Every interaction that I have all day long is an opportunity. But if we are going to step into that opportunity, we need to step out of our heads and take some risks, be open, be vulnerable. The pay off here can be huge. All day long we can give and receive energy and health. Choose love. Choose to connect with the people in your midst. face to face, heart to heart. And smile. To smile. The science is calling us to wake up to the life-giving power of these micro moments and take them more fully to heart. Choose love opportunities abound.
How Do Positive Emotions Further Support Health?
Now, all of these different positive emotions and more share in common two core truths. There are two core truths about these positive emotions. One is that they open us.
They literally change the boundaries of our minds and our hearts and change our outlook on our environments. Now, let me get poetic here for just a moment. Imagine that you’re this water lily. It’s early dawn, and your petals are closed in around your face. If you can see out at all from that vantage point, it’s just a little spot of sunlight, okay But as the sun rises in the sky, things begin to change. And, your delicate blinders around your face begin to open, and your world quite literally expands. You can see more. Your world is larger. Okay now this is sunlight is what changes the openness of flowers like this. The openness of our minds and hearts obey the warmth of positivity. The warmth of positive emotions changes our visual perspective is at a really basic level, and our ability to see our common humanity with others.
And we know this because we’ve done randomized control studies where we induce positive emotions. By the flip of a coin, some people are either given a dose of, positive experiences, cute puppies, goofy penguins, beautiful sunsets or neutral pictures, chairs, light switches, things like that. Other studies use a very simple paradigm that was developed by SSIS and decades ago where you give people a gift of candy all wrapped up in cellophane. So, you know, it’s not a sugar high that’s creating the, but it’s a gift, a token. they’re either given the gift before the experiment starts or after it’s over. in other studies, they have people listen to pleasant music. Now, in these kinds of studies, we know that, it changes the way people view, can kind of step back and, and take in the big picture. Other work, on this, opening or broadening effect has u used eye tracking where they lock in a camera on the iris and see what people are looking at. And if you give people that little gift of candy before they do a study like this, they’re more likely to look around all the different aspects of a complicated array. If you don’t give people a gift of candy, they pretty much just look at the centre baby, and they don’t look at the babies on the side.
So we know that positive emotions widen the scope of what people are scanning for in the environment. Rumi wrote about this in the 13th century, and captured this aspect of what positive emotions can do. He wrote, there is a way of breathing that’s a shame and a suffocation that really, narrows this down. There’s another way of expiring a love breath, he called it that lets us open infinitely. Okay So we have dozens of studies now that show us that this isn’t just poetic language. Now our studies don’t underscore the infinitely part. That part, may take a few more years to, get us to that level, but we do know that positive emotions open our awareness. They increase our, the, the expanse of our peripheral vision. We see more, and there are a lot of places where this matters because we see more, we see more possibilities.
People come up with more ideas about what they might do next when they’re experiencing a positive emotion relative to when they’re experiencing neutral states or negative emotions. People are more creative. Some of the earliest work in this area showed how, tests of creativity that used to be used for graduate admissions, that if you give people a bag of candy before they complete those tests, they score higher on them, okay They’re no longer used for graduate admissions. but, people are more creative. And this, widening of awareness has been directly linked to this greater creativity. People are more likely to be resilient. I have another, a whole line of research on resilience where we’ve shown that people are able to bounce back quicker from adversity when they’re experiencing positive emotions. Some other research has shown that, kids do better on a math test or in a learning in context if they’re just asked to sit and think of a positive memory before they take the test. So there’s better academic performance. really neat work on, physicians making better medical decisions, better at integrating the complex information of an unsolved case when they’re given a bag of candy a really small, positive emotion induction. So maybe you should go to your doctor’s office with that bag of candy.
How Do Positive Emotions Support Social Inclusion?
One of the studies that, one of my former students, Kareem Johnson and I did together, looked at how positive emotions allow us to, look past racial and cultural differences and see the unique individual and recognize individuals across racial lines to see past difference and to see towards oneness. there are other experiments that show if you induce positive emotions, people are more trusting people come to better, win-win solutions and negotiations, all kinds of effects.
This isn’t the same story that we’ve, known for decades, that positive emotions help us see the world through rose colored glasses, or see the glasses half full rather than half empty. These views are not wrong, but it is not the entire story. In addition, we’re also seeing the big picture at a very fundamental level. We’re able to see larger systems, see larger forms of interconnection when we’re experiencing positive emotions. And that can make a huge difference when we’re trying to address some of these really, entangled societal problems that we face. Choose to connect with the people in your midst. face to face, heart to heart. And smile. To smile. The science is calling us to wake up to the life-giving power of these micro moments and take them more fully to heart. Choose love opportunities abound.
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