Fostering Positivity

POSTED: November 27, 2020Category: General, AISA ArticlesBY: AISA P9

Authored by Chanel Worsteling, Child Protection and Wellbeing Programme Manager, Association of International Schools in Africa

The keynote address of the AISA 2020 Virtual Conference was by Suzy Green of the Positivity Institute. Her topic, the Power of Positivity in the Face of Adversity, could not be more relevant than now, so if you missed it, or want to watch it again with your school team, go to our website here.

So, what is positivity, how can it support our mental health and wellbeing, and how do we foster more positivity?

What is positivity?

Positivity is about consciously cultivating positive emotions. Positive emotions are vital for our sense of wellbeing, but they don’t just make us feel good, they have the power to transform our minds, our bodies and our ability to bounce back from difficult times.

Research by Barbara Fredrickson of the Positive Emotions and Psychology Lab at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions open our awareness which help us see more possibilities. This has lots of benefits including:

  • Being more creative, which is also beneficial for problem-solving;
  • Increasing resilience;
  • Improving academic performance;
  • Better health, as experiencing positive emotions has been shown to lead to better medical decisions;
  • Making us feel more socially connected to others.

What positivity is not?

Positivity and the positive psychology movement can get a bad wrap as it is sometimes misunderstood as focusing or aiming solely on experiencing positive emotions 100% of the time. This is of course completely unrealistic, and not at all what positivity is about. Trying to be positive, all of the time, is likely to lead to more suffering as denying or ignoring painful emotions is corrosive to our bodies and mental health. In fact, to foster good mental health and wellbeing, it is important that we experience the full range of human emotions, which means we will experience times of sadness, fear, anger, shame, and frustration, as well as joy and happiness.

How to foster positivity.

There are many ways that we can foster more positivity in our lives, here are just a few:

  • Nurture Self-Compassion:  Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves positively, self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all. This implies that we first need to notice when we might be struggling with painful thoughts and emotions. Having noticed our pain, we extend to ourselves the kindness and compassion that we might extend to a friend. In doing this, we recognise and honour our humanity.
    “By regarding ourselves with kindness, we begin to dissolve the identity of an isolated deficient self. This creates the grounds for including others in an unconditional loving heart.” Tara Brach
  • Cultivate Gratefulness: Gratitude can be difficult to define, but can generally be thought of as, “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” As humans, our brains are hard-wired for the negative, this is part of our in-built survival mechanism that attunes us to dangers and threats. The problem with this is that we can be less inclined to notice the positive, to celebrate the good, or to savor those moments of thankfulness, awe, enjoyment, and happiness. Practicing gratitude, therefore, helps us notice and foster positivity.
  • Practice Mindfulness: So often, we get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life, that we aren’t even conscious of our emotional state. One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it increases a greater awareness of how we are feeling in any given moment. This, of course, means that we become aware of all our emotions, but by noticing our positive emotions when they arise and taking the time to savor that feeling, we can enjoy and appreciate them.

At the close of Suzy’s keynote, she encouraged us all to consider just one thing, one small change, we might implement in our daily life to purposefully foster more positivity. This is the challenge I leave with you today: What’s one small thing you can do to foster more positivity?

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