Life Well Lived Glossary

The following information and links to further reading serve to provide definitions for terms used by our experts in their posts for Life Well Lived.

Upward and Downward Spirals:

As [a] cycle [of negative emotions] spirals further and further downward it can become self-destructive, leading to the loss of relationships, the relinquishing of commitments, and even desperate suicidal acts, a pattern all too familiar to clinicians who treat persons with emotional disorders. For the purposes of this paper, we refer to such emotion-related dynamics as downward spirals to acknowledge the self-perpetuating and damaging cycles that can be triggered by negative emotions. Positive emotions also trigger self-perpetuating cycles, yet because they lead to optimal functioning and enhanced social openness, we refer to them as upward spirals....

Note that upward and downward spirals are not mirror opposites that simply trade negative content for positive content. Rather, consequential structural differences set them apart. Whereas downward spirals lead to narrowed self-focus and rigid or stereotyped defensive behavior, upward spirals lead to increased openness to others and novel or spontaneous exploratory activity. In effect, upward spirals are more open, permeable, flexible and social than downward spirals. By engendering exposure to positive experiences (social and otherwise), positive emotions tend to accrete over time leading to more frequent positive emotions in the future. In so doing, positivity may develop a “life of its own.” We propose that upward spirals of positive emotions may be keys to fostering resilience (Fredrickson et al., 2003; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004) and countering the deleterious effects of the chronic negative moods observed among some persons with clinical disorders.

As we refer to upward and downward spirals for the remainder of this paper, we acknowledge that these concepts have parallels in other disciplines. Given our intent to integrate a broad array of knowledge from literatures that have developed in relative isolation from one another, we use the terms upward and downward spiral as a shorthand to refer to self-perpetuating, self-maximizing systems. In the field of cybernetics, this concept is known as a positive feedback loop, where the output of a circuit feeds back to become its own input in perpetuity or until dissolution of the system (Bateson, 1972).

E.L. Garland et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 849–864, 851-852

According to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a U.C. Riverside professor and author of The How of Happiness, an upward spiral is, "streams of happy moods, optimistic thoughts, and kind acts that gain momentum, propagate, spill over, and reinforce one another as they unfold."

Dr. Barbara Frederickson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina. She is a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science, and positive psychology. Her research centers on positive emotions and human flourishing and is supported by grants from the National Institute of Health. Her research has focused on how we can create an upward spiral in life which has been suggested, mathematically, to occur when positive emotions reach a 3:1 ratio to negative emotions

Faith

Accept:

This does not mean you have to like your circumstances. Instead, accept that some things are out of our control, and that we are unable to change what happened in the past. I believe in a notion of "faith," that only good will come from a situation. For example: rain grows grass or rainbows come after rain. Acceptance helps us neutralize our emotional experience so we can think clearly in dealing with the situation, like a cool, calm firefighter in the midst of a fire.

Wandering Mind

Recent Harvard research shows that 47% of the time most people are thinking of something other than what they are doing in the moment, and that this "wandering mind" can cause unhappiness. You can register to read the full text of the study by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Note: emphasis added to highlight glossary terms

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