NeuRA researchers highlight positive pathways to resilience

NeuRA researchers have conducted a comprehensive review of almost 100 studies on positive emotion and its role in determining resilience, with findings published earlier this week in the journal Psychology Research and Behaviour Management. Led by Associate Professor Justine Gatt and researchers at NeuRA’s Centre for Wellbeing, Resilience and Recovery, the review concluded that individuals who are more positive are more likely to overcome adversity, and those who overcome adversity will exhibit greater positive emotion as a result.

These findings highlight the critical role of positive emotions in building resilience and emphasise the importance of fostering mental wellbeing as a proactive approach to maintaining mental health.

The power of positivity 

These findings suggest that to improve resilience, known as the process of recovery from, or adaptation to, stress and adversity, it is important to find ways to increase our level of positive emotion or experiences, rather than focusing solely on reducing negative emotions. Our review also identified other resilience resources’ that enable people to regain their positive feelings following adversity,” says Associate Professor Gatt. These include positive personality traits such as optimism and hope, as well as interpersonal connections such as having a network of supportive relationships.”

Addressing a gap in mental health research

This review contributes to a growing understanding that mental health is not only about reducing the symptoms of illness and negative experiences, but about fostering mental wellbeing and positive experiences. The majority of studies treat positive emotion as an outcome of resilience, rather than as a resilience resource, so our review also points out the gaps in the literature that researchers can address in the future,” says Associate Professor Gatt.

Five ways to cultivate positive emotion

Thankfully, similar to resilience, positive emotions are something we can actively build and improve. Here are five science-backed strategies to enhance positive emotion:

  1. Stay socially engaged: Staying socially connected with friends and loved ones, as well as mentally stimulated through hobbies, games, education, and other pastimes can improve positive emotion.
  2. Spread kindness: Acts of kindness such as being kind, helpful or generous to others have been proven to boost our own happiness as much as theirs.
  3. Exercise: Physical activity is one of the most reliable ways to boost mood. Choose activities that spark joy, such as team sports, dancing, walking or gardening.
  4. Savour happy memories and focus on the future: It is important to learn from earlier mistakes and savour happy memories of the past, known as positive reminiscence’. However, our goals, values and sense of purpose all point to the future. Set meaningful goals for yourself and move forward towards a brighter tomorrow.
  5. Enjoy the journey – not just the destination: Sometimes, when we directly focus on trying to be happy in the future as if it’s an end outcome, we forget to be present in the moment and neglect the idea that happiness might already be around us. Joy and contentment often arise when we are focusing on meaningful activities and pursuing our goals. In other words, happiness is part of the journey, not just the outcome.

16 May 2024