Mca blog

Being Human is Like a Solar-Powered Watch

I have a rather old solar powered watch. In the winter it often stops running because under my long sleeves it’s not getting enough sunlight to keep the battery charged.

I can relate to that!

But not in the way you think. It’s not just actual sunlight that we need. As humans, the sunlight we need most comes from positive emotions.

Think about how you feel when you get an unexpected hug from a friend or family member. Or someone expresses gratitude for something you did. Or a colleague tells you they’re proud of one of your accomplishments.

Think about how you feel when you see an uplifting movie, read an inspirational book or listen to an informative podcast. Or when a stranger shows you some kindness (lets you in the traffic queue or opens a door for you when your hands are full).

All these are potential rays of sunlight that can affect your health as powerfully as does actual sunlight. As without sunlight, without positive emotions we would be unable to be at our optimal best. Without positivity our emotional battery would run down.

When my children were little, I used to tell them I had a “hug-o-meter”. If ever I said that Mummy’s hug-o-meter was low, they would come running into my open arms and hug and squeeze me till my tank was full again. Their physical expression of love helped to refuel me emotionally, it gave me resilience to face the often tough and demanding world again.

This is what positive emotions do for us.

Numerous studies show that engaging with positive emotions can improve your health and even reverse illness. But more importantly, positive emotions can be protective – like holding up a clear umbrella during a sun-shower, they protect you from the rain whilst still letting in the sunlight. Healing what is wrong is important, of course. But preventing ill health or emotional burnout is even more important. Positive emotions can do this, if we engage with them regularly.

But, I hear you say, life is tough and bad things happen daily. That’s true, but did you know that we actually experience 3-times more good things each day than bad? 

The problem is we don’t notice them.

We’ve evolved to pay more attention to bad things than good, because bad things may be life-threatening. From an evolutionary viewpoint, focusing on the bad is a survival mechanism that allows us to stay alive long enough to pass on our genes, ensuring our species does not become extinct.

That mechanism was useful when we procreated in our early teens and died before the age of 35. Not so useful now. In fact, that same negative reactivity that ensures the survival of our species is now (at least partially) responsible for cardio-vascular disease, cancer, immune disorders and other “modern” illnesses.

The good news is that if you want to increase your positive emotions, you don’t have to do special positivity exercises (though that helps too). You might just make a point of noticing every positive thing that happens in your day. The parking spot, the smile from a colleague, the feel of sun on your skin on a cold winter’s day or the cool breeze in mid-summer, the great cup of coffee, the pleasure of purchasing a new garment, the tasty piece of fruit, the comfort of your pillow at night, the hug from a friend or partner, the excitement shown by your neighbour’s dog when you visit… need I continue? So many opportunities to engage with positive emotions every single day.

But to notice these emotions you need awareness. If you eat that piece of fruit or drink that coffee while scanning your emails, chances are you won’t even notice if it’s pleasant or not. If your child comes running for a hug while you’re busy on the phone, how will you fill your hug-o-meter? Positivity is an active, not a passive state. Nothing and no-one will make you happier, you must do it to yourself, using all the opportunities that knock on your door every day.

And the best way to improve your awareness is to learn how to practice mindfulness.

It’s not hard. Watch a young child, they do it intuitively. We call it a beginner’s mind. A young child has new experiences every day. First smile, first rolling over, first foods, first crawl, first words, first steps, first play with another child, first visit to the zoo. We could fill pages with all these firsts.

The beginner’s mind is the attitude of openness to a new experience, like that of a child. However, a true beginner’s mind is to approach every experience as if it were a new one, even when it’s the thousandth time. You may have had hundreds of cups of coffee, even thousands, but if you drink each cup of coffee as if it were the first time, you may notice flavours you’ve never noticed before – perhaps pleasant ones or not, but it will be unique experience.

This is mindful awareness.

When you learn to bring this type of awareness to the many positive moments of your day, you’ll notice that multitude of daily positive emotions that are waiting to be savoured.

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