Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Increase Your Happiness: Upregulate Positive Feelings

There has been considerable focus on the attempt to down-regulate (reduce) negative emotions as a way to relieve stress, depression, and the intrusive thinking that follows traumatic events. As such, the focus on positive emotions has largely been used to offset and reduce negative feelings and thoughts.

A Reason to Upregulate Positive Feelings

Recent evidence directs us to consider that the upregulation of positive feelings may serve as a uniquely important factor in expanding our happiness on a daily basis. Researchers have found that upregulation strategies can enhance the impact of positive events on our momentary happy mood and have been associated with higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and positive emotions.

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The definition of happiness most agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, economists, positive psychologists and Buddhist Monks is not of happiness as the state of bursting with glee but of happiness as a sense of well being, contentment, the feeling of living a meaningful life, of utilizing one’s gifts, of living with thought and with purpose.

With this in mind, consider upregulating some positive emotions.

In their research on this topic, Quoidback & colleagues use a process model of emotion regulation that lends itself to useable strategies. We can increase our positive feelings by:

  • Choosing situations to enter or not based on expected emotional outcomes.
  • Modifying those situations once we are in them.
  • Directing our attention to specific features of them.
  • Changing our appraisals of a situation.
  • Modulating our responses in the situation.

 For Example:

 Selecting a Positive Situation

  • Putting yourself in the outdoors, be it gardening, walking or sitting on your porch may predictably create a positive mood.
  • Being out to dinner with your partner may be anticipated and experienced as enjoyable for you.
  • Spending time with good friends may offer a positive sense of connection.

Modifying the Situation- involves altering the situation in a way to further enhance the positive feeling.

  • Turning on your favorite music while you garden or sitting on the porch.
  • Saving that cup of coffee until you are out there soaking in the view adds to – upregulates your positive feelings.
  • Surprising your partner by making secret reservations and planning ahead to reserve the table with the view adds to the enjoyment of this positive situation.
  • Studies show we can optimize positive events by following rituals as well as altering them in different ways–like saving the surprise until the end.

Directing Our Attention To Certain Aspects of a Situation

This is like an internal version of situation selection and can take place before or during the experiencing of a positive situation.

  • Evidence suggests that imagining future positive events can increase our current level of happiness and does not take away from the actual experience.
  • Looking forward to that cup of coffee on your porch or that dinner date with your partner is worth doing as it expands that positive feeling by giving you the preview in the middle of your day.
  • It is one of the reasons people book beach vacations in the winter – the positive anticipation of fun in the sun!
  • Mindfulness in the moment to the joy of being with your friends or the fragrance of the flowers in your garden has proven to be important in intensifying happiness and well-being.

Changing Our Appraisal Of a Situation

How we appraise a situation determines the emotions we feel while in it. If the holiday is the long awaited gathering of everyone you love, your feelings will be very different than if you dread holidays as too much work.

Two ways to alter your appraisal of a situation to increase positive feelings include:

Consider how much you estimate the value of an experience or item

  • If you recognize that the family will not be together for another holiday for a number of years – your positive feelings are likely to increase.
  • If you know that the wine your sister brought for the event is quite expensive, your positive enjoyment of it is likely to be enhanced.

Consider the role you played–Attributing the causes of a positive event to personal factors or abilities heightens positive feelings.

Recognizing that your food was central to the enjoyment around the table; your idea to invite unexpected relatives was a wonderful surprise; the stories you told set off a great deal of laughter—expand your experience of a positive event.

Modulating Our Responses in a Situation

Turn Up the Volume -There is strong evidence that expressing positive emotions verbally and/or physically in a situation boosts a positive experience.

Smiling at your partner, laughing out loud with friends, singing your favorite songs are steps that upregulate positive feelings.

Pass On that Feeling-The way we respond after having a positive experience holds potential in maintaining and extending our positive feelings.

Social sharing of positive experiences to interested listeners, referred to as capitalization, has been shown to increase the intensity and duration of daily positive feelings.

  • Share the wonders of the great vacation.
  • Bring the pictures and stories from the wedding.
  • Give the details of the hilarious show you saw on the weekend.
  • Enter laughing and pass it on.

We know that as humans we tend to remember negative events far more than positive ones because negative events involve more thinking and processing.

“ The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” (Rick Hanson)

 Let’s Upregulate our positive feelings and make them stick!