Building Positive Emotion
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
Positive emotions, certainly, but how do we get from here to there? God isn’t magic, although He could be. He wants to partner with us rather than wiggle His nose like Bewitched or bob His head like I Dream of Jeannie. In so doing, we grow in trust, we grow in strength, we grow in maturity and character. (Practice makes a habit makes a trait makes character. Script) It is for our benefit that He doesn’t magically endow us with gifts.
If we use the imagery of gardening, before we get fruit, we must work the soil, amend it, rework it, measure out the expected plant sizes, then plant the right seeds. We must pull weeds so that they do not choke out the seedlings, and later so they do not rob the plant of moisture and nutrients. We must sometimes prune leaves, branches, or early fruit. We must pick off bugs which seek to suck out the nutrients and kill the plants. We must water and fertilize. And beyond our control – the right amount of sunlight and temperatures, and even storms (lightening is natural fertilizer!) are needed. Those are a lot of steps that we do not usually stop to think about as we are enjoying a nice, fresh tomato or berries. (And I probably forgot a few steps, too.)
So why is it then that in the church we somehow tend to think that positive emotions are magically imbued within us at the time of conversion? How is it that we, as a culture, have somehow forgotten to recognize, to learn, and to teach these steps towards positive emotion (and resiliency, self-awareness, and spiritual deepening)?
There are few things more painful for a discouraged, depressed person to hear than “Have faith!” Or for an anxious person to be told “You just need the peace of God!” *sigh* These remarks are not helpful, people. Fruit doesn’t magically appear (Beware fake fruit – another good blog post!)
(On rare occasions, that physical organ called the brain has fallen prey to illness like the other organs in the body can do and they require medication to help re-regulate proper functioning. It happens. Those times call for a psychiatrist. At that point it is also prudent to seek the help of a psychotherapist in order to dig deep and examine what causes led to this faulty wiring.)
Most commonly, what has happened is that we have either forgotten or never learned the steps to get from here to there. Our expectations of ourselves or others may betray our beliefs, and may also reveal fake fruit! (Okay, I am feeling tempted to abandon this post and start writing one on fake fruit! Rolling my eyes at myself. *shiney!*) So let’s stop.
There are tangible steps proven to increase positive emotion!
Actually we now have a smorgasbord of exercises to choose from, which is perfect since we are each unique. How did we lose sight of these steps? I can blame fast food restaurants & grocery stores for our forgetfulness of the many necessary steps that lead toward fruitful plants and trees, but those equally necessary steps that lead toward increased positive emotion in our lives? I don’t know.
And what do I mean when I say “positive emotion”? I hope you are not confusing that term with the erroneous “power of positive thinking”. Let’s be real. Life happens. There are times when it is absolutely appropriate to be feeling negative emotions!
But for this term – “positive emotions” – I am speaking of those ‘good life’ qualities that Christ speaks of: Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Perhaps we can think of the term as a mathematical equation. Rather than life at normal zero, or sub-zero, let us seek life above zero! Or better yet, take our above zero and soar from +1 to +5 or +10!!!
And in those times when negative emotions are appropriate, having a storage of positive emotions will fortify us against destructive emotions and help us to bounce back more quickly (flourish resiliently!).
For those who are struggling with feelings that are negative or neutral that are getting in the way of living the full life Christ has promised (John 10:10), let us with sincere compassion come alongside one another. Learn, practice, and teach skills that will encourage and strengthen one another.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Proverbs 25:20
No more “Have faith!” or “You just need the peace of God!”… It is time for action. Love is an action verb – so let us be known by our love! (Wait, didn’t Someone else say that?)
Action is what my practice is all about. Call it coaching, counseling, practitioning, or whatever you feel comfortable with. I will come alongside you with sincere compassion and help you to discover those missing steps in your life, and then to practice and perfect them in order to grow stronger in positive emotion.
This is a currently popular exercise that works for most people to decrease sad feelings and increase happy feelings. You may have heard of it.
The 3 Blessings:
1) At night before you go to sleep think back on your day. Find 3 things you are grateful for from that day. You may prefer to think of it as ‘what went well’. Spend at least 10 minutes on this exercise. Do this for at least one week, every night.
It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. It may be something so simple and delicious as dinner!
2) Write down each blessing and why it is a blessing (or went well).
(i.e. Dinner was delicious. Everyone enjoyed it. It was a new recipe so I am grateful it was a success and I can consider this one a keeper.)
3) Next to each blessing, answer “Why did this happen?”
(i.e. I love my family and want to make delicious food for them so I searched for a new recipe they might like. My family is open to trying new things. +grateful for that too+. God provided the money and opportunity to get all of the ingredients. +grateful for that too+)
Remember to do this every night for at least one week. Do not choose the same thing as you have chosen prior. Look for those new blessings each day. They are there! Trust me!
Give this a fair chance. While we are each unique, and not everything works for everyone, this is popular because it has been shown scientifically to be so effective. However, this is why individual coaching/counseling is so vital. My job is to help you find what works for you, so you can
Flourish Resiliently while We Press On.