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The Science of Emotions

The Science of Emotions

What are emotions for?

After World War II, psychology shifted to understanding the impact of negative emotions with the increase of treatment for trauma and other intense battlefield related emotions. This effort was due widely to trying to gain an effective treatment for these negative emotions and at that time it shifted the face of psychological science focusing on the effect of negative emotions have on us. Emotions in general serve many purposes in our brain. Emotions increase our ability to remember and learn in both the amygdala and hippocampal regions of the brain as well as emotions have a direct link to our communication which is heavily a frontal lobe function. The frontal lobe communicates directly with the limbic system, which is where the amygdala is processing the chemistry from emotion. Emotions affect our behavior, and act as a guide in developing our beliefs and values, which result in behavioral motivation to act in integrity and honesty, increasing feelings of peace and happiness (positive emotions). Science has found that negative emotions are a necessary part of functioning and society would be a mess if we did not have negative emotions. Negative emotions warn us from dangerous situations, guide us in protecting or standing up for ourselves in situations where our worth and integrity are being degraded, and they act as a guide with guilt and shame to motivate us to act in ways that produce positive emotions. When I was 11 years old, I had been dealing with an unhealthy abusive situation from a step-father since I was 4, and had so many negative emotions of guilt, shame, and just feeling bad about the abuse. These negative emotions all those years, finally empowered me when I felt I was old enough to have a voice to an adult, and I finally voiced how I felt and told about the abuse.  I share this so you understand that negative emotions do not mean you are bad, they are so incredibly useful to guide us to make decisions that protect us and offer a teaching pathway of personal growth.  Sometimes we try to justify negative feelings, which renders ineffective the power these emotions can have for us. Ultimately, negative emotions are our pathway to personal growth and to experiencing positive emotions.

The Power of Positive Emotions

Positive emotions started gaining more light as a scientific study in psychology, from a classic study done by Alice Isen in 2005, where she placed coins in telephone booths (remember those?) and she would study the response of the random recipients of finding these coins and their motivated behavior after realizing their "good fortune" of finding money in the phone booth.  They recorded the burst of positive emotions displayed by the person finding the coins, and followed them to observe them and found that they were more likely to do a good act or deed after finding the money compared to the non-coin recipients.  Some helped a person cross the street, others helped pick up books someone dropped etc. They found that Positive emotions motivated more helpful and selfless behavior.  This is not all however, they also did another study with physicians where they left a little gift of a bag of chocolates and observed how the medical doctors delighted in their gift (I know I always love a little gift of chocolate) and found that the doctors who received the surprise gift showed significantly better diagnostic ability and were more careful in their approach than their non-gifted colleagues from the group.  These studies are such a good reminder of the power of just a small positive act every single one of us does for others each day. This research opened up the flood gates to understanding positive emotions from a scientific perspective and science has confirmed that positive emotions helps individuals build their capabilities, deal with the future, makes people more creative, curious, interested, increases helping behaviors to serve others, improves our problem solving skills, make us more sociable, and even negates the effect that negative emotions have on our psyche. Positive emotions also help us return more quickly to a normal pulse rate and blood pressure after feeling stressed and has a long term effect on our blood pressure, heart health, and immune system. There is now a lot of strong research that supports evidence that positive emotions make people healthier, more physically active, and even leads to lower rates of cigarette use, drug use, & suicidiality.

Happily Ever After

It is no wonder Hollywood, Disney and most good novels we read, share a story of a struggle, negative emotions, and the triumph resulting in living "happily ever after".  This is the journey of life, overcoming, personal growth, and enjoying feelings of positivity. We could not enjoy the positive if we did not experience the negative. There must be opposition in all things or we would not know joy. How boring would the movie be if there was no struggle in emotions? We wouldn't watch it that is for sure.  Because positive emotions help negate the effects of negative emotions, we have the antidote for each time we feel a negative emotion.  Lastly, my magic aide for increasing positive emotions is emotional aromatherapy and it is my favorite way to assist me and my clients in encouraging positive emotions.  Because aromatics enter the brain through the neural olfactory pathways and have a direct connection to the amygdala, nature's aromatics can communicate an array of emotional chemistry to our brain, most specifically from our limbic system to our front lobe, motivating us to feel and act more positive.  To learn more about emotional aromatherapy click here.  Finding purpose in your emotions can help manage the negative and achieve the growth they have to offer which  in reality, is the journey that drives our behavior and motivation to ultimately feel peace, creating in our own life, a real version of "Happily Ever After".

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