Negative affect (emotion) and positive affect are not opposites on the same continuum. You do not necessarily decrease negative affect by increasing positive affect. For the sake of simplicity, they are different nerve impulses using different neuropathways. While it is true that you cannot be positive and negative at the same time, that is to say at the very same time, it is possible to go from one to the other in rather rapid succession.
Negative emotion seems to be just “under our skin,” no matter how positive we try to become. And that’s because negative emotion is and always will be very close to us. It is our warning system. The key is learning to guide your positive emotion with greater capacity and agility, to exercise more choice over having them.
Positive thinking, as good as it can be, is no guarantee of this capacity. You can think positively all you want and not necessarily affect your negative feelings. In fact, it may be a hindrance if it is rooted in the denial of negative emotion as a warning system or even as a reflective guide. The biggest problem with negative emotion is that no one has ever told us that it is essential to our happiness and well-being to master positive emotion.
It seems to be confounding to say, however, that the longer you experience positive emotion, the less likely you are, over time, to experience as much negative emotion. What is important to realize here is that different brain mechanisms are at work in the play of either of these emotions. You can learn to manage both of them.
Negative emotions win out with their immediacy. Negative emotions are “now” emotions and positive emotions are more associated with the long-term. Negative emotions are sharper in the “now” than positive ones. Positive emotions are more important and significant over the long-term. Positive emotion can remake who you are beginning at any point in your lifetime. It is just that powerful. But it is just as possible to allow negative emotions to rule your entire life.
Because we have regarded emotions for so long only as “reactive,” there is little research on long-term practiced positive emotion. In fact, no one has really thought much about practicing positive emotional states as a discipline or as a practice. We have just generally had much more practice with negative emotions than positive ones. It is likely that no one has said to us, “go out and practice feeling love, peace, joy, gratitude or hope” because we have usually always just waited for them to happen to us.
There are, of course, spiritual admonishments to keep our thoughts on good and positive things, but there has been no really concerted effort, at least not popularized, to practice and grow positive emotions with anything like a “workout.” Pecs, breasts and bubble butts have been much more important as a way to happiness. If you are an exercise buff, take a deep breath here; you can have both, but you have to work at each of them. We can even show you how to do both of them at the same time.
There are two things that are essential. The first is to decide that you can and want to have more positive emotion in your life–that it is absolutely essential to your health and well-being. The second is to work-out in our Emotional Gym. Make your agility and ability with positive emotion second nature. We can show you how.