Accumulating Positive Emotions

By Kylie Hayes, MS, PLPC

As we are drawing near to the end of 2020, I can’t help but think: we survived. I say this now, taking a deep inhale, noticing my breath: I am still breathing. If you would like to pause with me, take a deep breath and notice: you are still breathing.  In just January we started to hear about the coronavirus, learned Australia was on fire, and an impeachment trial was taking place. It did not slow down from there as many have suffered and have been affected in several different ways. Some coped and ran marathons. Some like me coped by watching Netflix and enjoying a snack. However, you made it through this time – I hope you feel proud of yourself for surviving. You made it.

A skill I have shared with clients and have found important for myself this year is a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill called Accumulating Positive Emotions. This skill involves developing positive events in a daily routine to help increase positive emotions and decrease negative ones (Linehan 2015). After experiencing a year that might have created a sense of deprivation, scarcity, uncertainty or has left you overwhelmed and tired, this skill might seem like a lot of work and energy. These are also some reasons why this skill might be helpful as a lack of positive events can have a negative impact on mood and contribute to a sense of being deprived. Implementing positive events can increase positive emotions which helps build emotional resilience and increases long-term happiness. As Marsha Linehan writes, “even in a very deprived life, a person can find or develop pleasant events that will lift the spirits, at least momentarily, and increase positive emotions, even if only slightly.”

Here are some tips to start accumulating positive emotions by doing one pleasant thing a day:

  • Make it pleasurable

This one might seem obvious, but engage in an event that is pleasurable to you. If you are an extroverted, sociable person, your idea of pleasure might be different from a person who is more quiet or introverted. Take time and consider what brings you pleasure or what might have brought you pleasure in the past.  Maybe it is calling a friend or maybe it is putting on some comfortable clothes and having a night in.

  • It can be simple

Perhaps you have a busy schedule and it is hard to imagine how to make time to use this skill. Start with small events such as listening to a song you enjoy, taking a moment to pause and notice the sunrise or sunset, or repeating a self-affirmation.

  • Be fully present

Every morning I have a cup of coffee and most evenings a cup of hot tea. Though it is something I do every day, there is a difference when I am mindlessly drinking it compared to being fully present with a few sips of it. I am more likely to experience positive emotions when I take a moment to fully engage in noticing the taste, the warmth of it, and even expressing gratitude as I am present with the pleasure of the experience. I encourage you with whichever event you choose, to be fully present – even if just for a moment, taking time to enjoy and appreciate the experience. It might be playing games with your family without distraction, eating lunch mindfully, or lighting a candle. If worries and distractions start to interrupt, become aware of this and guide yourself back to fully experiencing the positive event.

Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training manual (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.

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