Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program and the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association Kenan-Flagler School of Business
So if we keep with this analogy that I've been working on
with positive emotions as nutrients.
We hear a lot about neuroplasticity these days.
I mean a decade ago that was not even a word people knew of, but, you know,
how people's experience changes the brain.
What I just want to point out is that this research shows that
there's plasticity all over the body.
I mean, you know, we certainly, knew that with muscles, right?
You know, that if you work out and lift weights,
whatever you do repeatedly is going to be kind of written into your muscle capacity.
So you know, that's true with the heart.
That's true with the immune system.
So how we engage with the world emotionally shows up in terms of the plas-
the functioning and the plasticity of the physical heart of the immune system.
And, you know the thing about plasticity is it's reminds us that there's a use
it or lose it kind of framework here that, you know it's not
like you build this you know, wonderful muscle, it just stays there forever.
You, you know, it's reflective of daily habits.
You know, so, the functioning of the heart and
the immune system can very much be that, you know, reflection of our daily habits,
and, on the, if we don't keep exercising our capacity to connect,
we could be eroding some of our biological capacity to connect.
And that's one thing that I think is really important is,
we kind of as a culture go into the modes of connecting that aren't face-to-face.
You know, what is it, what is it that we're inadvertently eroding in ourselves
by kind of losing the habit and practice of connecting, you know.
So, I don't know if any of you guys have sort of,
observations of, you know, ways in which our
current society kind of tempts us into, not connecting face-to-face.
But, there's a lot, there's a lot that can go.
>> I think just the advancements in technology.
>> Yeah. >> You know, everything from, you know,
the smart phone to the to the tablets, to the laptops, computers.
>> Right. >> Communication by using some type of
machine or medium.
>> Right. >> This is taking the time to get to know
one another, face to face, feeling one another, being right there in the moment.
>> Right, right. >> So that pulls us apart.
>> So there's probably some way in which our thumbs are getting really strong.
You know, like we're just engaging so
much with certain ways of interacting that involve imagining
someone's reaction through a screen and a lot of abstractions, you know.
It's, it's and a lot put on, the print, you know, the written word, and
not as much on that sort of dance of non-verbal expression and connection.
So, there's certainly, you know, I think there are potential costs that come with.
again, tending to interact in one way versus another.
Now that's an area for future research.
I know Brett's been very interested in this piece, so.
>> Yeah. >> I can, to ask you to
share a little bit about the work at, work at home versus work in an office.
>> Yeah, we are running a study on this type of thing and
we are asking two different groups, we recruited two different groups of people.
Those we work at home with not a whole lot of social interaction versus people who
work in kind of a typical office setting where there are other people present.
And we, asked them to kind of write a diary about their day, and
then we asked them about each event from their day and
to what extent they were experiencing you know, positivity resonance and
really connecting with people, and we're finding results here.
We're still analyzing the data but that, these face-to-face interactions are where
this positivity resonance is really really coming in and there may be some
physical health implications with that too that we're starting to, to look at, so.
>> One of the things I thought was really interesting in that study and
again we're still analyzing the data but there was a,
a glimmer that the people who were working more on their own,
working at home got much more out of their phone calls with people.
Like they had more positivity resonance in phone calls.
Then in people who were meeting with people face-to-face,
a phone call was kind of maybe a little like, not as big of an opportunity.
But a phone call was a big opportunity for somebody.
So it's kind of like people kind of knew, well I'm not getting much of this in my
day, so I'm going to get as much as I can out of this connection time that I have.
>> Yeah. People are versatile,
they adapted to their situation,
learn to kind to how to you know get this positivity resonance if
they didn't have the opportunity to have as many face to face interactions so.
>> So take a moment to think of
your three longest social interactions that you had yesterday.
And and then reflect on with those considering those three
interactions as a whole, how in tune with other people did you feel?
How close did you feel?
Now one thing that we discovered completely by accident in our research lab
was that asking people this question regularly, like every night for
a series of weeks, is act, is also an induction that creates more
positive emotions in people's days and more positive connection.
So what do you, what do you think if you were to make that
a nightly habit to reflect on connection what, what do you think would change?
>> I would try to make more connections I think.
>> [LAUGH]. >> Right I mean is that.
>> Yeah >> You know attending to it and so.
>> Right. >> I would look.
I would be more proactive in thinking about connections.
>> Yeah, yeah. And thinking, oh,
I'm going to have to answer that question again.
So let's make this count.
because there could be something that, that changes, in the,
in the, the ways people interact with one another, because they're,
have that self consciousness about it, or that reflection about it.
>> And also that it can just make you appreciate that much more,
the connections that you're already having with people.
So, in the moment, when you're reflecting, really appreciating them.
And then, once you've been reflecting on them, then when you are interacting with
other people, it might just bring you more appreciation for.
>> Yeah, yeah.
So it's a way of savoring it, in a way.
>> Yes. >> Mm-hm.
>> So, and I always think of
savoring as a way to triple the, the goodness of a good experience, because you
can kind of savor in advance like oh, this will be nice when we connect.
And then you can savor during and then the, this nightly reflection is
a way to kind of re-stoke the, the goodness of it as well.
>> So it, it's it can magnify it even if it's not changing actual behavior.
One of the things that we found to be especially remarkable is that
this exercise just of introducing that reflection on
connection everyday, also changes people's cardiac vagal tone.
So if we measure people's cardiac vagal tone at the start of the study and
then three months later, if they've been doing this exercise and
again, we randomly assign people to either reflect on connection or
to reflect on some other aspect of their day.
Those who reflect on connection show that improvement in cardiac vagal tone,
that very rhythm of their heart at rest becomes healthier, more efficient.
So we don't think it has the same strength as the loving kindness meditation but
it it has the same effect.
The same effect at a, at a slightly different strength, but
the good new about this one is that this one works for
people and it proves their vagal tone no matter where they started.
They didn't have to start with high vagal tone to get a bigger improvement in it.
This works if you were,
it's kind of an equal opportunity intervention in that way.
so, I mean just getting back to your question earlier about well,
these are we could maybe think of positive emotions as health behaviours, you know,
this, we know that eating well, staying active, you know, managing
our stress, those are all things that are important for our health and wellness.
Cultivating these positive emotions, and, and especially ones around connection.
You know, definitely could be a health behaviour too.
There's a recent meta analysis of some 300,000 participants in research studies,
and they've found that there's a comparable effect on mortality risk.
For your, connection and engagement.
As with, you know, using tobacco, being overweight, excessive alcohol use.
It's just as powerful of an effect on our health,
as these other things that we hear about all the time, as health behaviors.
But we never think of you know, social connection.
Positive social connection as a, as a health behavior.
>> Just thinking, that reminds me of prison.
And when you want to hurt someone.
>> Yeah. >> You isolate them.
>> Exactly. >> You take them away from the connection.
Even though the prisoners aren't necessarily bud buds or.
>> Yeah. >> All that.
But just a removal.
>> Right. >> That, that says something.
>> And solitary confinement.
>> Solitary confinement.
>> Whoa. >> Exactly.
>> Yeah, it's just like this basic nutrient that humans need to feel alive,
It's that, it is punishing when it, when it's taken away.
So what let's take a moment to think about what would a public health
campaign look like?
If we really took seriously that connection and
this kind of positive emotions that we share, it is a vital health behavior.
What could you picture in am, in a public health campaign?
>> My mind goes to schools right away and thinking about.
Teacher training, maybe.
>> Mm-hm. >> And thinking about how to
cultivate positive emotion in the classroom.
>> and, and how that might help kids not only learn, but also be healthy.
>> Yeah, yeah, yeah.
There's so much focus, you know, about end of grade tests, and like, making sure
teachers are getting all this content in so that kids can do well in a grade.
If we just back up a little bit and say,
okay, what's the context that's going to allow kids to be able to take that in and
learn and be, become the best version of themselves, and how the, how teachers and,
and others in schools, create the contexts.
>> Right. >> Really can make a big difference.
>> Mm-hm. Sure.
>> And I think about the world of sport.
>> And even connected with schools.
>> It's more than just the competition of two teams playing.
It's all the other connections.
So it's the cheerleaders.
It's the people in the stands connecting with one another.
I remember in high school the football games going on, but a group of friends,
we're all hanging out just walking around the stadium meeting people.
The grandparents, they all get together.
So it's just that coming together.
That's what the sport does.
>> Right, and over something that's playful and joyful.
>> And also you could admire great skill in the process, so
that's another positive emotion.
>> The Super Bowl parties.
>> Yeah. >> Most people aren't even
watching the game, but the fact that people are coming together.
>> Yeah, yeah exactly.
Great. >> For me I,
I would think it would be important to maybe give some, some direction or
suggestions of how people can cultivate more of
these connections in their lives because I think of
people I've worked with who maybe feel like they don't have that in their lives.
And that just hearing this kind of thing, could maybe make them feel worse about
that in a way, like oh well I don't have any connections with people that I can.
>> Right, right.
>> Really focus on with that.
>> Well that's, that's where I feel like just recognizing that
positivity resonance can occur with any other human.
You don't have to have this history of, of connection and relationship.
It can be, even those of us, you know?
Like, when I'm traveling in another city, and I don't really know anybody.
I can still, still move through the town and kind of greet a shopkeeper, and
kind of thank the person who gets me, got me that pastry.
You know what I mean, like you can still feel these positive ways of relating to
people even if they're just, you know, one-time encounters.
And so I think.
Kind of lowering the bar on what counts as connection is really important as well.
That it, that it, it's this, the small little interactions that you know,
if we're able to talk and meet somebody's gaze, we have, we have what it takes.
[LAUGH] >> Yeah.
>> To, to get involved.
You know, as long as we feel safe.
I mean, that is a, a key.
Pre-conditioned so that, you know, we might need to first think
about what's making, a person or what's making me at this moment not feel safe.
You know, and, and honoring that and kind of working on that first.
And also, I find that, people might try too hard, to connect.
>> Yeah. >> Like if they're
really wanting that connection, that it's kind of
keeping the connection from happening, >> Yeah.
>> Because they're so focused on connecting with the other person.
>> Yeah, yeah, yeah.
>> Yeah. >> So, that a lot of it is.
>> Being true to yourself.
>> Mm-hm. >> And that allows for
more connection from the heart instead of like please accept me.
>> Right. >> Connect with me.
>> Same, going back to what we talked about a couple weeks ago with an you know,
valuing happiness or connection to an extreme.
>> Mm. >> Versus prioritizing it.
You know, kind of instead of just like oh, this has gotta happen.
>> Yeah. >> You know,
just trying to set the stage for it.
>> Mm. >> Like, you know,
situations like sporting events can be setting the stage.
>> Or the ways teachers kind of set up the cat, classroom can be setting the stage.
So trying to, when we,
when we like you can't strong arm an emotion, or a connection.
You can't just like, will it into being.
You can, you can plant the seeds.
>> Yeah. >> And see what grows.
But you don't, you don't yell over the flower, grow, grow.
You know, you've gotta tend it, you know.
So it's, this is one of those areas where you have to think about tending,
more than forcing, which, again.
It can sound so simple but it actually takes, some nuance to, to get it right.
I really appreciate you bringing in those, kind of, caveats.
>> Hm. >> So.
The more we as scientists are able to explore the biology of positive emotions,
the more in awe I am about how these tiny engines do their work.
How much they energize us and drive us to be at our best, not just emotionally and
socially, but physically as well.
Your experiential assignment for
this week is to implement the micro moment practice that my team and I have studied.
Simply reflect on your social connections each evening, and consider how close, and
attuned you felt with others.
As you learn how to generate more positive emotions in your day,
in this in other ways.
You can be assured that your cells and your heart take note, and change for
the better, in-step with the changes in your daily emotional habits.
Reciprocal links are key here.
At the same time that positive emotions beget health,
health begets positive emotions.
That's the upward spiral.
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