How to Feel Happier – According to Science. Using Positive Memories to Increase Positive Emotions

How to Feel Happier - The Proven Way to Increase Positive Feelings

Memories are powerful. Far from being the passive remnants of our history, our memories actively shape our experiences, our relationships and our life stories that we are yet to create. Now, exciting new research has found that our positive memories can also be used to increase positive emotions.

We are wired to remember the things that bring us pain. This is our ancient, highly effective, sometimes annoying, warning system, designed and finely tuned by evolution to keep us safe. By remembering the things that have caused us trouble, we’re more likely to avoid them and keep ourselves alive. This is a great thing for our survival, but not such a great thing for our feel-goods. (Evolution can be a pity sometimes.)

Our capacity for remembering the positive isn’t as easily triggered as the negative, but research has found that with deliberate effort, we can change this and use positive memories to work hard for us. Our positive memories can give us access to a remarkable repertoire of resources that can shape our experiences in positive ways, and strengthen our mental health. 

Research has found that by savoring our positive memories we can increase positive emotions. It also has the capacity to reduce anxiety by reducing the way we attend to and experience threat, and it can ease the symptoms of depression by letting the world be seen less through a more optimistic, happier filter.

The Research

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. As part of the study, participants were asked to remember a recent positive memory of being with another person. The memory was then expanded through a technique called the Social Broad Minded Affective Coping (BMAC) technique.

The research found that by savouring a positive memory, there was a kind of ‘re-experiencing’ of the event contained in the memory. Senses were re-engaged and the emotions associated with the memory were re-experienced. As well as this, the meaning contained in the positive memory helped to push against any negative beliefs that tried to push their way through and cause trouble. Feelings of warmth, social safeness (how connected you feel to others) and calm were increased, while negative feelings were decreased.

How do I use my positive memories to feel happier?

To nurture positive feelings through positive memories, think of a recent positive memory and expand it by remembering it through each of your senses. Here’s how:

  1. Think of a recent positive memory of being with another person.
  2. Move around the memory, engaging all senses as you do. Let it broaden in your mind.
  3. Where are you?
  4. What do you see?
  5. Turn your focus on the other person. 
    • Focus on his or her face. What do you see?
    • Try to get a sense of the positive feelings the other person was experiencing.
    • What are they wearing?
    • What are they doing?
    • How does the other person in the memory feel?
    • What is that like for you – that other people think or feel this way about you?
  6. What do you hear?
    • From the other person?
    • In the environment?
  7. What can you smell?
  8. Does your memory involve any tastes?
  9. Can you touch anything in your memory? How does it feel to do that?
  10. What is the strongest and most positive part of the memory? Let the feeling expand in you. Sit with the feeling and enjoy it for a few moments.

(The full social broad minded Affective Coping Script that was used in the study can be found the Appendix at the end of the study here.)

Building a beautiful brain through experience.

Research over the last decade has shown us that we have an enormous and ongoing capacity to change our brains. Positive memories activate positive emotion. The more you do this, the more your brain will change to accommodate this. It’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Over time, it will become easier to access positive emotion by expanding positive memories, and to nurture the positive experience that comes from that.

And finally …

Healthy living is about more than avoiding trouble. It is about the way we perceive and respond to the world around us, and how we interpret the things that happen. Our emotions provide a filter for everything we experience. We are hardwired for that filter to be a negative one, but by deliberately accessing our positive memories and letting them we can also make sure that our positive filter has a heavy hand in the way we live our lives.

3 Comments

Lisa

I can’t believe I had such a difficult time trying to recall a happy memory.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Lisa you’re probably not alone with that. If it’s difficult to turn your focus to happy memories that are already there, take the opportunity now to create some happy ones – let it be about you for a while.

Reply
Minda Caldwell

This works. The more you focus on positive experiences, no matter how small, does exude a sense of satisfaction within and without.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
.
But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
.
We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
.
Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
⠀⠀

⠀⠀
 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
⠀⠀
Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
⠀⠀

⠀⠀
 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
⠀⠀
"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
.
.
.
#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

Pin It on Pinterest