Savour positive emotions to boost wellbeing

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life can help build positivity

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life, and savouring the emotions associated with them, can help build positivity and boost wellbeing

“Concentrate [yourself] upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.” This quote from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray could have been taken from a modern manual on mindfulness, or an article on positive psychology. It also sums up new research that encourages us to savour the emotions associated with special moments to enhance feelings of wellbeing.

The university study reveals that the it’s not just the response we have to something beautiful or breathtaking or moving, but the ability to keep hold of positive emotions – to savour them – that can boost wellbeing. And the research looked at people who can and people who can’t savour the moments of life, and who are perhaps more inclined to feel depressed.

“It’s important to consider not just how much emotion you experience, but also how long these emotions persist,” said researcher Aaron Heller, University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami. He added: “We’re looking at how one person can savour a great deal from that beautiful sunset or a memorable meal, but how another person who might be susceptible to depression can’t savour that sunset and those positive emotions subside quickly.”

The study looked at how the effect of a positive emotion on neural pathways in the brain, even if it lasts for a few seconds. The research found it could “predict the persistence of a person’s positive emotion minutes and hours later… [leading to] a growing understanding of how mental disorders such as depression might be manifested in the brain”.

The study explored sending frequent prompts sent to people via their smartphones, to help embed positive emotions more regularly and efficiently. The researchers also suggested that meditation, and showing kindness and compassion to others, could impact on an individual’s ability to savour the moments – and the positive emotions – of life.

Can stress really be friend not foe?

Don't fight stress and it can point you in the right direction, say US psychologists. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Don’t fight stress and it can point you in the right direction, say US psychologists. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Relying on coping strategies to avoid stress – rather than embracing stress as a natural and welcome part of our everyday lives – could be causing us more problems in the short and long term, according to US psychologists from Stanford. They argue that stress can be more helpful than harmful, if you only change your stress mindset.

That might initially seem like an upside-down concept, particularly given the rise in recent years of mindfulness-based stress reduction courses and other stress management techniques to help quieten the mind, calm the breathing, and tame the anxious thoughts. But the Stanford research proposes that resisting stress through avoidance or procrastination, or amplifying it through catastrophic or destructive thinking, can increase instances of depression, divorce, job loss etc. In other words, all the consequences the stressed-out person is desperately seeking to avoid.

How I interpret the research is that the psychologists are suggesting we come to view stress as a way to help us meet our challenges rather than be defeated or victimised by them. Yes, they acknowledge that stress is responsible for some rather unpleasant physical and emotional consequences. Yet they argue that stress (or the response to adrenalin in fight or flight mode) is there to help us stand up to our difficulties rather than feel we need to run from them. Importantly, we don’t need to feel crushed by the weight of life’s injustices, or fear that our stress levels are another sign that we’re weak and unable to cope.

Here are three further key points from the research that I believe provide insight: (more…)

Don’t let everyday stresses spoil the moments of life

How you respond to the daily grind can affect your mental health. (pic:

How you respond to the daily grind can affect your mental health. (pic:

Oscar Wilde wrote in the Picture of Dorian Gray that we should “teach man to concentrate himself up on the moments of life that is itself but a moment”. But unfortunately too many of us let the beauty and fragility of the moment be spoiled by minor stresses and annoyances. And those daily stresses can add up to longer-term mental health problems, according to a psychology study by UC Irvine.

The researchers set out to discover whether “everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or make us stronger and ‘inoculate’ us against later tribulations”. They looked at how 711 men and women in the US reacted to daily stressors, such as being stuck in traffic or arguing with a partner. They found that negative emotional responses today can accumulate into anxiety or mood disorders 10 years later. And it was the little things, and our responses to them, that could be more damaging than major psychological upsets.

Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology & social behavior, says: “It’s important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments. We’re so focused on long-term goals that we don’t see the importance of regulating our emotions. Changing how you respond to stress and how you think about stressful situations is as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.”

Sounds like a strong argument for daily mindfulness practices – observing our feelings but not reacting to them – to stop those little things getting to us.

Be mindful to stress less and sleep better

Mindfulness can benefit you day and night. (pic:

Mindfulness can benefit you day and night. (pic:

Mindfulness can have benefits during the night as well as the day, bringing peace of mind and more restful sleep, according to new research from the University of Utah.

People who describe themselves as mindful were proven to have more control over their mood and behaviour in daylight hours. And because their minds were quieter and their emotions more stable during the day, this translated into better sleep at night-time and an increased ability to manage stress.

People who took part in the research were prompted at various points of their everyday lives to “rate their emotional state and mental functioning”. The results suggest that “mindfulness may be linked to self-regulation throughout the day, and that this many be an important way that mindfulness contributes to better emotional and physical wellbeing”.

You don’t need to be trained in mindfulness meditation to reap the benefits of being mindful. Just check in with yourself at various points of the day to give you a chance to become conscious of how you’re feeling, and turn the volume up or down on your emotions.