You know when someone smiles at you in such a way that you catch it and smile back without even thinking? That feeling of connection that lights you up? It can be sharing a funny story with the check out person at Trader Joe’s, getting together with a friend, or smiling at a neighbor on the street.
Creating moments of connection with another person creates what researcher Barbara Fredrickson calls “positive resonance” that can boost your positive emotions which contribute to your overall health and well being. “Under the influence of positive emotions, your sense of self actually expands to include others to greater degrees.”
Oxytocin is also known as the “cuddle” or “love hormone.” It is a key player in establishing our attachments and bonds to other people, but it also has immediate benefits for hugging. It calms anxiety and stress, increases trust and connection. It’s what makes holding a baby and cuddling with someone we love so relaxing.
According to the National Institute of Play, play relieves stress and builds resilience. “It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.” So, you’re never too old to play. Let loose a little, play pretend, tell jokes, and make people laugh!
Do something you love at just the right amount of challenge so that it captures your attention, time disappears and you get lost in it. Research shows that this state of “flow” improves your emotional regulation and your productivity. You may experience more confidence, self esteem and find more meaning in life.
We experience awe when we encounter something so vast and exceptional that we struggle to comprehend it. It can be seeing the starry sky from the desert on a clear night, watching Niagra Falls, standing on a mountaintop, encountering a breathtaking work of art, or watching someone display Olympian skills that surpass our imagination. The positive emotions experienced through awe can promote health and well being.
Whether or not we are moms, many of us are caregivers of some sort and could derive happiness and long term benefits from these five experiences.
I was still in the parking lot when my distressed daughter called me. One of her costumes had not made the trip with her to the theater for the final dress rehearsal of her upcoming dance recital. We lived 30 miles away, and had just slogged our way through rush hour traffic to get there. I had plans to eat dinner with local friends and didn’t want to cancel for this.
Inventorying the choices, I couldn’t help but register the various parent voices and opinions that exist in the parent-sphere. I thought about the parenting paradigm of not helping, letting the child deal with the consequences as a learning experience.
What am I enabling if I go home and get her costume?
Why not let the child learn to remember by negative example?
Was I hovering and protecting too much if I got her costume for her?
Years ago, as a new mom holding my infant daughter, I had the realization that what I most wanted for her was to learn to trust herself. I knew that meant cultivating that trait or skill within myself first.
So, that’s what I did.
After some disappointment, heavy sighing, and hearing all the arguments in my head, I decided to follow my instinct. I told my friends I’d be late for dinner, and got back on the highway. (Thank you friends for waiting for me!)
Later that evening, in the car ride home, my daughter thanked me and said that it made her feel good that I had helped her. It made her want to reciprocate.
That’s when I understood what my instinct had meant. I had lived my values of kindness and compassion in the way I treated my distressed daughter. Listening to her, I knew that for who my daughter is at this moment, for who I am right now, I did what felt right. Hopefully, she will remember the event as a positive example of caring and kindness.
By now, you probably have an idea of what you would done in a similar scenario with your child.
Would you like an opportunity to reflect on your values, and how to align your parenting goals with them? Join us for our next webinar, or contact me for a complimentary coaching session.
When I was a young child, my dad took us to see Damn Yankees at the dinner theater just a few miles from our home. It was the first live show I ever saw, and one that launched a life of longing for the stage.
The show gave me a feeling of floating and soaring and I distinctly remember the private elated feeling I had humming to myself while walking along the wall of the lobby in my white knitted poncho with stripes at the bottom that my great Aunt Mary had made for me.
The songs still evoke vivid memories from seeing the show. Echoes of images from seeing the show then have lingered longer than any memory of seeing the 1994 revival on Broadway have.
More than any images, I have physical, visceral emotional memories of how certain songs, or energies made me feel.
Decades later, cast in a local production, I make sure to be back stage when Joe transforms from middle aged man to young baseball hero and rushes onto stage singing the end of “Goodbye Old Girl.” He has sold his soul to the devil for a chance to live his dream as a baseball hero and bring his team to victory against the legendary Yankees of the 1950’s. The rush of youthful energy full of anticipation and possibilities that young Joe brings on stage with him touches the 7 year old child in me whose heart opened wider that it ever had hearing that song for the first time.
Middle aged Joe Boyd as young Joe Hardy, gets to live his dream. He in facts finds a way to live his dream and reunite with his wife, safe from the devil’s domain. Listening backstage again to this song, I felt a kinship with the longing and the dream, and this time, a deep affinity with Joe Boyd and his commitment to his wife. My life has always been a tug of war between my visceral need to connect with people through the arts to express myself on stage in song, dance and theater, and my need to feel connected and close to family, friends, and communities.
In life, we feel tension between our desires, our sense of responsibility, our wants and all the “should’s” that we learn.
How many of us suppress our dreams and desires and do what we are supposed to do instead?
What would it look like if we could feel as free as Joe Hardy when he finishes that song to bring our energy, enthusiasm and desires into the way we live our lives?
A few days ago, I opened in a featured character role in the show, Damn Yankees. The premise of the show, a musical version of the book, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, is that an athlete who has devil granted powerful hitting, can change everything. A lackluster baseball team goes from being the lowest ranked baseball team to winning the pennant when a middle aged man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for being a baseball hero who can raise his team to the top. The team’s changeover uplifts a whole community of people thrilled to see their home team finally winning.
It’s a wonderful fantasy, but can one great ball player change a team that much? According to the song, “You’ve Gotta Have Heart,” the star baseball player Joe Hardy is a hero because he has “heart.” Can having “heart” really change one’s life so dramatically?
The more I coach, the clearer I see how the biggest obstacles we face in the way of getting what we most want in life are ourselves. When we can open and see possibilities beyond our limiting beliefs, we maximize our own potential. It’s the most beautiful moment when someone lights up with a new insight, a spark of creativity or small ideas that begins a chain of “Yes!”
Just before starting this piece, I was a little stuck with a bunch of starts and unfinished pieces. As the rehearsal process for Damn Yankees built towards performance, as the cast grew more connected working towards a common goals, as we saw improvements, exciting costume and scenery additions, the exchanges of smiles increased. Each smile and connection, boosted our spirits and spread the excitement around.
With a heart full of love for my cast mates and what we were creating together, the inspiration to finish this piece flowed and much of this piece wrote itself while I sat backstage opening night in between stage appearances. In the midst of enthusiastic show energy, I felt empowered and knew just what to write.
Now, I understand more viscerally, how moments of joy and other positive emotions can open us creatively and make striving for a goal feel effortless. The next time I am feeling stuck, I know to make time to smile with a friend, hug my children, do something kind, and do the activities that generally lift my positivity and open my heart.