Finding the Good in Difficult Times

With all of the recent natural disasters, the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas and the images and accounts of so much suffering, we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, deeply saddened and pessimistic about our future. This can take a real toll on our emotional and physical health.  So how do we find positivity, hope and compassion in such difficult times? The latest research in meditation, neuroscience and positive psychology offers ways to keep us healthy, positive, openhearted and resilient in the face of these tragic events. Here's how . . .

Find the Good.

One way to elevate your sense of optimism is by witnessing all the good that is out there in the world right now.  Some days you just have to look a little harder to see it. You don't have to go far to find incredible stories of heroism and kindness. A simple search online, for example, results in story after story of first responders, friends and total strangers risking their lives to save the lives of others in Las Vegas. You can also look to see how people from all over the world are sending much-needed supplies to people devastated by the recent hurricanes and earthquakes.  We just need to turn off all the negative news and see all the good, the triumph of the human spirit and so many heroic acts of bravery, that came out of the depths of these tragedies. 

New research shows that witnessing and celebrating good deeds and human kindness not only makes us feel good, it positively impacts our emotional and physical health. One 2015 study found that just by watching a video of people doing good deeds, participants experienced heightened positive emotions of being moved, touched, and inspired, while also feeling a greater sense of common humanity and connection with others.  Another study of people suffering from depression showed that by watching human acts of kindness, generosity and love, they increased their hope and reduced their sadness, anxiety, and loneliness.

So here you go, from the Ellen DeGeneres, filmed on the day of the Las Vegas shooting, is a heartfelt clip that brought me to tears (of joy) and gave me a much-needed dose of good news and proof of human kindness.  Thank you Ellen!

Ellen DeGeneres  shares tear-jerking reminder of hope after Las Vegas shooting.

Ellen DeGeneres shares tear-jerking reminder of hope after Las Vegas shooting.

Be the Good.

In addition to seeing all the good around us, we can also be the good around us. Now, doing good is even easier than ever before. With the click of a button on your computer, you can help people in need around the world. There are many fun, creative and meaningful ways to make a difference and do some good. My daughter is participating in a "practice marathon" and having friends and family sponsor her for every hour she practices her flute, then donating all the proceeds to hurricane relief efforts. Her friend is having a birthday party and has asked that each child make a donation to charities she chose that in lieu of birthday gifts. So, make a contribution, drop off supplies or find other ways to help, and involve your kids in the effort. Or, look for ways to make a difference in your own community. No act of kindness is too small.

Just as seeing the good can positively affect your health and wellbeing, research   shows that doing good triggers something known as helper's high, an activation in the mesolimbic system, a part of the brain that triggers feelings of reward and the release of your "feel good" neurotransmitters like oxytocin.  "People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness," says Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota. "All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity."  

So, go out and be the good. You will feel the positive effects, the world will benefit from your kindness and the ripple effects can change the world. 

Feel the Good - The Health Benefits of Positive Emotions.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science (the study of emotion), and positive psychology has been researching positive emotions for nearly two decades.  She believes positive emotions transform us for the better and bring out the best in us.  And the positive effects are not just feeling good, positive emotions can make us healthier and change us even at a cellular level.  

Dr. Fredrickson explains that we replace 1% of our cells each day. The latest science shows that our emotions affect these cellular changes. Therefore, positive emotions matter and can change us at a cellular level.  Dr. Fredrickson has found that cultivating positive emotions can literally change who we are in the future.  

This change doesn't happen overnight but takes time and practice. In one landmark study, Dr. Fredrickson found over the course of an 8-week meditation class, in which the participants practiced compassion meditation (known as metta meditation or lovingkindness), they developed an increase over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms).  These improvements in personal resources also predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms. In searching for greater happiness and life satisfaction, Dr. Fredrickson explains that we can all find, "micro-moments of positivity each day and follow the light of those positive moments" for better health and happiness.