While reading Adrianna Huffington’s book Thrive, she described a very simple, yet effective task that resonated with me. She wrote about the way we interpret the things that we have to do and suggested that instead of thinking about them as tasks that we have to do where we have the thoughts ‘I’ve got to do this,’ instead we think about them in an alternative and more positive way, where we have the thought ‘I get to do this.’ I have been applying this in my life and have found that it is an effective method of increasing appreciation and gratitude. While reflecting on this, a number of ideas have occurred to me to explain why this might be an effective method of increasing positive emotions.

Focusing positively on a task

It may be that by pausing the automatic thought, the ‘I’ve got to …’ that comes unbidden through years of use, and focusing on the task that I am actually doing, it allows me to reflect on it in a positive way. Seeing the task for what it is, understanding how it fits into my life and the lives of others, considering the positive consequences of doing the task, appreciating that I am in the position to be able to do the task. This is a conscious act of savouring and increases my gratitude, both of which are linked to improving mood.

Behavioural aspects of the task

The increase in positive emotions may also be due to the behavioural aspects of the task too, the way that we use and shape our mouth. In this task, when we shape our mouth to say the word ‘got’, our mouth contracts into a small circle. Try it for yourself. However when we say the word ‘get’ we use our mouths in a completely different way. To get the ‘ehh’ sound in ‘get’ we widen our mouth and show our teeth similar to the way that we shape our mouth when we smile. Try it out.

How to smile!

Not only do we to raise the corners of the mouth using the zygomatic major muscle, when we say ‘get’, we even engage the muscle around the eyes that is involved in smiling, the orbicularis oculi. This raises our cheeks and produces those telltale laughter lines, the crow’s feet around the eyes. When we smile these muscles signal the brain to release hormones and neurotransmitters involved in positive emotions such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, making use feel happier.

This way of reconsidering those jobs that we have to do, particularly those that we may find tedious or daunting, is simple and transportable and can help us to find joy in the most mundane task. Give it a go.

Huffington, A. (2014). Thrive. London: Penguin Random House.

Quoidbach, J., Berry, E. V., Hansenne, M. & Mikolaiczak, M. (2010). Positive emotion regulation and well-being: Comparing the impact of eight savoring and dampening strategies. Personality and Individual Differences, 49,5, 368-373.

Strack, F. Martin, L. L. & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54,5, 768-77.

About the authorYou can read more about Bryony Shaw MAPP, here.


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