Family laughing at home

Boosting Positive Emotions at Home

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In this time of social distancing and COVID-19 craziness, it may seem like happiness is at the bottom of everyone’s supply list. However, during these difficult times, positive emotions (e.g. happiness, joy and gratitude) are more vital than ever1. Feeling good isn’t just a luxury, it’s an important part of thriving. Just like physical exercise is good for our health, mental exercises that boost positive emotions can help us decrease stress2, feel more resilient1, think and act more flexibly3, and feel more connected to others4. Positive emotions also improve our physical health, and may even help our immune system5! If you or your family are feeling a little cramped at home—or just looking for a burst of good feelings—consider trying 1 of these 3 at-home exercises, which research suggests can increase positive emotions that may contribute to long-term thriving.

Activity 1: Take a gratitude walk6.

Timing: 15 minutes, 1-3 times a week

Step 1: Go for a 10-minute walk! As you walk, think about:

  • What good things you have in your life.
  • What things you are grateful for.
  • How the things you’re grateful for benefit you.
  • Why you’re so grateful for them.
  • If someone helped you, what it cost them (e.g. money, time, effort, etc.).

You might see something on your walk that you feel grateful for, or you could use this time to reflect on things you’ve felt grateful for recently. You may walk alone or near others (while also keeping your social distance). However, do not talk to others during this time. This should be a silent walk.

Step 2: Reflect for 3-5 minutes.

  • Grab a notebook or your laptop.
  • Take 3-5 minutes to write a few of the things you thought about, that you felt grateful for. If you thought about someone who helped you, explain why it made you feel grateful to receive their help. That’s it!

Activity 2: Think about 3 funny things7.

Timing: 10 minutes, 1 week daily

How: Set 10 minutes aside every day to reflect on the on the 3 funniest things you saw, heard, or even participated in. Then write a little bit about each one. As you write, think about:

  • What made these 3 things funny to you—that is, why did you think they were funny?
  • How did this funny thing come about? What were the reasons that made this specifically funny?

These may feel like tricky questions, but there are no right or wrong answers here. Simply do your best to reflect on the experiences as YOU felt them. Also, try to pick a consistent time of day to reflect, such as the morning, your lunch break, or night-time.

Activity 3: Get stronger by using your strengths8.

Timing: Varies, 1 week daily

Step 1: Take this free, 15-20 minute quiz that will tell you what your strengths are (https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register).

Step 2: (Time varies) Pick 1 of your top 5 strengths to use in a new way. For instance, if your strength is creativity, you might choose to apply this to cooking a new recipe. If your strength is having a love of learning, pick a new subject area to learn about, or learn more about a person you care about—whether it’s a neighbor or family member, especially as you may be around them more often than normal right now. Whatever your strength, find a way to apply it in a way you never have before.

A last bit of advice: Just like in physical exercise where workout routines are tailored for different fitness levels, the same applies to positive emotion activities. Not everyone enjoys running or strength training, and not all positive emotion boosting activities will feel right for you. Try each of the activities mentioned above and find what feels best for you and your family. These activities are good for parents, grandparents, and youth. Feel free to mix up the timing. Do one activity twice a week and another once a week. Let each member of your family find what works for THEM. Consider yourselves on a journey to find the exercises and activities that bring each of you the most joy, contentment, happiness, gratitude, or whichever positive emotion best helps you and your family thrive. Good luck!


References

1. Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology86(2), 320.

2. Gloria, Christian T., and Mary A. Steinhardt. “Relationships among positive emotions, coping, resilience and mental health.” Stress and Health 32.2 (2016): 145-156.

3. Kok, B. E., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotion: How positive emotions broaden and build.

4 Kok, B. E., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). Upward spirals of the heart: Autonomic flexibility, as indexed by vagal tone, reciprocally and prospectively predicts positive emotions and social connectedness. Biological psychology85(3), 432-436.

5. Howell, R. T., Kern, M. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). Health benefits: Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes. Health Psychology Review1(1), 83-136.

6. Bronk, K. C., Baumsteiger, R., Mangan, S., Riches, B., Dubon, V., Benavides, C., & Bono, G. (2019). Fostering purpose among young adults: Effective online interventions. Journal of Character Education15(2), 21-38.

7. Wellenzohn, S., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2016). Humor-based online positive psychology interventions: A randomized placebo-controlled long-term trial. The Journal of Positive Psychology11(6), 584-594.

8. Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review5(1), 6-15.

About the Author

Susan Mangan

Susan Mangan

Susan Mangan is a Research Associate with The Thrive Center. As a Positive Developmental Psychologist, Susan is interested in how we, as individuals and as a society, can lead happier, more fulfilling lives. As a scholar more broadly, her research focuses on positive psychology interventions, well-being, and emerging adulthood. She also has a strong background in evaluation, statistics, and community program development.

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2 Comments

  1. Thrive Center Thrive Center on April 1, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Hi Fabienne,

    We’d love that! Would you just mind sharing the translated version with us first? We’d love to have a chance to check it over and make sure all the wording still reflects the research accurately. It’d be so exciting to see it in another language! You can contact me directly at: susan.a.mangan@gmail.com.

    Happy thriving,
    Susan Mangan



  2. Avatar RUCH-GORON on March 25, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Thank you for this post ! I’m French : can I translate this in French and note of course that you are the author of the article ? Thank you and feel free about your answer. Fabienne RUCH-GORON



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