Feeling the Love – And Feeling Good, Even When Life is Tough

Life is just a bowl of cherries, right??img_5084

But what about when it’s not? Can there be positivity in the midst of sorrow? Optimism and hope while overwhelmed with stress?? Yes, it CAN happen! I’m still participating in The Full Measure Experiment. I have yet to write about the second assignment, but the results of my third assignment are so cool that I just had to share…Our 3rd lesson in The Full Measure Experiment referenced Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson’s book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. The book is grounded in years of research in positive psychology and in it Dr. Fredrickson defines love not in any way as a romantic connection but as “positivity resonance.” Positivity resonance is when two people resonate in a moment of positive connection. This positivity-charged connection with other living beings translates into the feelings of love that our bodies crave. The author compares the relationship between love and our bodies with the way sunlight, nutrient-rich soil and water nourish a plant. Dr. Fredrickson says:

“Just as your body was designed to extract oxygen from the earth’s atmosphere, and nutrients from the foods you ingest, your body was designed to love…love, and its absence, fundamentally alters the biochemicals in which your body is steeped. They, in turn, can alter the very ways your DNA gets expressed within your cells. The love you do or do not experience today may quite literally change key aspects of your cellular architecture next season and next year–cells that affect your physical health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing. In these ways and more, just as your supplies of clean air and nutritious food forecast how long you’ll walk this earth–and whether you’ll thrive or just get by–so does your supply of love.”

Fredrickson explains that our bodies long for these moments of positive connection (=love) and her research shows that those individuals who experience a ratio of 3 positive moments of connection to 1 negative connection thrive. Dr. Fredrickson developed a tool to assess an individual’s daily positivity ratio and to track changes in the ratio over time. For my class assignment this week, we used the tool daily to measure our positivity ratio. I loved what my results reiterated to me…

I reported to the class my positivity ratio results for Monday and Tuesday; however, I didn’t even take the positivity self test on Wednesday evening because I had had such a bad day. It wasn’t one of those I-woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed kind of days, but a truly bad, sad day. I simply didn’t have the guts to see how low my ratio was because I knew it would probably come out as “0”. On Thursday I felt much the same way and again didn’t take the positivity resonance self test. I woke up early Friday morning still feeling sad. As most days, I started the morning with quiet, alone time which, for me, includes prayer, meditation and scripture study (unless my 5 year-old wakes up early, and then the meditation part pretty much goes out the window). I prayed for comfort and peace. I prayed to know how I could feel more peace and love and joy that day. I then felt strongly that I had to take action. I decided that I needed to live purposefully that day. I realized that, in my learning about positivity resonance and moments of positive connection, I had missed this key point – the moments of positive connection that we experience are rarely random occurrences. They don’t usually just appear while we are waiting around for something good to happen, or waiting for someone to pass by and make us happy. Rather, positivity-charged connections are moments we create. We create them by putting ourselves in places and situations where we might have the opportunity to make a positive connection, and then we open ourselves up to experiencing that connection.

So, I decided to put it to the test. I started out Friday morning feeling super blue and I gauged my positivity resonance ratio to be only about .5 (remember, Dr. Fredrickson considers a ratio of 3 as “thriving”). Through the course of the day, I would live purposefully, placing myself in situations where a positive connection was probable and then I would keep myself open to experiencing that positive connection. Because my circumstances hadn’t changed and I was still facing the same challenges and sadness, I knew my “negative connection” score would likely still be high, dragging my ratio down; however, my hope was that I could keep a hopeful, open mind and create enough positive connections to lift my positivity resonance ratio. Here we go…

7:25am – My twins and I knelt for our daily morning prayer together. Typically, after “Amen,” we hurriedly rise to our feet, rush to the kitchen to comb hair and strap on backpacks, and then race out the door to catch the bus. However, this time following “Amen,” I knelt with them a few seconds longer and shared with them an impression I had received during my personal scripture study. For that short moment, a spirit of love filled our chests and a halo of peace encircled us. Because I took the time to open myself up and to share with my children, we experienced a powerful positivity-charged connection.

7:32am – I send my boys off to school, but instead of a swift peck on the head and a squeeze good-bye, I hold them by their shoulders, look into their eyes and tell them each something that I appreciate about them. They smile and I can see it in their eyes that they felt it too – Bam – another positivity-charged connection.

9am – The babe is up, diapered and fed, and demanding some kind of entertainment. It is at this point that I might ask my 5 year-old to keep an eye on his baby sister (don’t judge me) while I take a quick 5-minute shower. Instead, I feel that my body is longing for further positive connections so I toss my sweet baby girl into the air, hang for a moment on her shrill, high-pitched giggle and then strap her into the stroller to go on a walk around the farm. She and I share a love for our dear farm animal friends, so I know this activity will feed our connection craving. One by one, we stop by the horses, chickens and goats. I sense that she too can feel that these creatures can look through us into our souls. We chat with them and they do their part in helping to heal my sadness. My daughter laughs hysterically when the baby goat nibbles on her toes and this mends my heart a bit too. More positive connections.

10:35am – I start to think about lunch and decide that the three of us should take a picnic to the park rather than sitting for lunch at the dining room table. Not only does the picnic easily allow for a positive connection with my children, but it also gets me out of my typical routine and places me in a situation where I might connect with others. While picnicking, I enjoy watching Adam bounce from activity to activity making new friends. I lay on the blanket with Annabelle and laugh as I watch her stuff too many grapes in her mouth. I feel the positive connections course through me and nourish my soul. Rather than sit quietly in my own little space (while I actually do love meeting strangers, I sometimes feel too lazy to make an effort to talk with someone new), I lift Annabelle from the ground and move to a nearby bench where I see a mom sitting by herself. We chat, the typical “Where are you from?”, “How old are your kids?” routine, and I find out that she too is a mother of twins. We share a laugh about a couple things that only mothers of multiples might know. And then – Bam – another positivity-charged connection that I didn’t expect but which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t decided to foster the opportunity.

11:26am – I squeeze Adam and, before sending him to the bus, I also tell him something specific that I love about him. He grins from ear to ear and of course says, “Yeah, I already knew that.” Another positive connection.

12:00pm – Naptime for Annabelle and my chores are beckoning me, but I feel in my body a longing for further connection, this time with God. I aim to study and meditate every morning, but today I feel the need to do more. I turn off my phone, for right now it would only be a distraction. I take a moment to sit and think and pray. And to feel God’s love for me. This connection is more healing than anything else.

(Ok, I won’t lie – toward the end of my meditation I fall asleep and take a short, but much needed, nap. Haha.)

2:45pm – Two of my favorite boys bound off the school bus. We cheer for the weekend and I announce that we are going to the fruit farm to pick berries. The drive to the farm is lovely – past corn and soybean fields, driving further into the middle of nowhere. We pull in, park and pick up our empty trays for berries. As I step into the berry patch, I feel such a heightened awareness of the beauty that surrounds me, which awareness fills me with joy. Surrounded by farm fields, it is quiet. We are the only ones there. The blue sky is painted with a few fluffy clouds. The air is warm and smells so clean and sweet. It is so beautiful. My kids and I kneel at the bushes and begin picking. I love hearing them tell me about their day. I love seeing their red-stained hands. I love the feel of Annabelle’s golden curls which I sweep out of her face as she stuffs yet another raspberry into her mouth (she is eating berries faster than I can pick them). I soak up every second of this beautiful moment together. We all connect and my heart swells with happiness. My three boys run off to pick from the blackberry bushes and I am left alone with the raspberries, Annabelle, quiet as her mouth is too full of the sweet fruit. As I pluck a handful of the fragrant berries, I feel so connected with the Earth. I am overwhelmed with gratitude – gratitude to be sharing this connection with my children, gratitude that God has created such beauty, and gratitude that, in His tender mercy, I once again feel so loved. An hour later we load back into the car. As I leave the berry patch behind, I reflect – I just wanted to have fun with my kids, but what I got was completely unexpected and so much more.

More. When we choose to do, we get so much more. My experiment was now over, and at the end of the day I took the Positivity Resonance self test. My ratio? Just over 2.0. Not thriving, according to Dr. Fredrickson, but so much higher than it could have been. At the end of the day, I felt positive in the midst of sorrow and optimistic and hopeful while overwhelmed with stress. As expected, I still had plenty of frustrating, stressful, sad moments that day which dragged my ratio down; but, because I chose to make my day better than it could have been by doing and creating more moments of positive connection, I fed my body with the love it longs for.  More positivity-charged connections = more love = more happiness.

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