Recently, my counselor explained to me that I do not process positive emotions. This realization has been life changing for me. When I experience a negative feeling, I think through it and process it. I attempt to understand why I am having it, assess what I can learn from it, and address anything that needs to change. However, when I experience positive emotions, I just let my brain rest.
How has this impacted my parenting? As a mother, I gave my time, energy, and attention to my negative feelings of fear and anger without ever pausing to appreciate the moments that I felt excited and happy. I experienced happiness when my children were kind or excelled at something, but I did not spend time processing that happiness. I just enjoyed it in the moment without thinking through what made me happy, what I could learn from it, and how we could keep doing things that brought on that feeling.
How did this make my children feel? They never felt like I spent time appreciating their successes, what brought them joy, or enjoying things that went well. I am an optimist by nature and a very encouraging person. So, when my children pointed out that I was not enjoying what was good, I never understood what they were saying until my counselor explained this to me.
How can we build a habit of processing positive emotions?
1. Take time to notice the positive emotions you feel during the day and write them down. For example, you may feel elated when a task takes less time than you anticipated or proud when your daughter eats her green beans without complaining. Do not make the mistake I did and let your brain “rest” when these moments take place. Instead, stop and take note.
2. At one point in the day, stop and list three times that you felt positive emotions in the last 24 hours.
3. Choose one positive emotion and find ways to build on it. Exercise your positive emotions in the same way that you do your body. If you want to feel proud, make lists of all the little things you accomplished that day instead of focusing on what did not get done on your to do list. If you want to feel more joy, purposefully look for things that bring on that feeling and intentionally practice them daily.
4. Practice gratitude. Go out of your way to make a habit of giving thanks for every little thing you take for granted. Be grateful for your home even when it is dirty, your friends even when they annoy you, and your family even when they are frustrating.
5. Keep physical reminders of positive experiences. I have a friend who has a beautiful display of glass bottles with sand from all the beaches she has visited. She takes time weekly to look at those bottles and reflect on joyful memories from each place. You can keep cards, photos, journal entries, and memorabilia of good times.
As you begin to better recognize and process your positive emotions, teach your children how to do the same. They will be thankful you gave them this gift early in life!
Dr. Beth Long received her education in Counseling Psychology from Chapman University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Beth has worked in six unique clinical environments across the country and currently owns Works of Wonder Therapy in Montgomery. Beth utilizes the knowledge from a variety of different disciplines to give her patients the best care possible. To learn more visit www.worksofwondertherapy.com.