The Essence of Love: Shared Positive EmotionsApril 25 , 2014

Would you like your relationships to be stronger and feel more connecting?   The research shows that one of the most powerful ways to find deeper connection is through sharing positive emotions. We know that strong relationships are a primary driver of happiness and well-being. The process I share today is how we can tap into this endless source of positivity and bonding.

You know that experience of being totally in sync with someone – you’re in an engaging conversation and you feel connected.  You unconsciously mirror the actions and facial expressions of the other person.  You anticipate what they are going to say before they say it.  The two of you are feeling the same things, thinking the same things and sometimes your sense of self expands and you almost feel like the same person.  This is what Barbara Fredrickson, top positive psychology researcher, calls positivity resonance.

In her book, Love 2.0, she shares the research how these short bursts of shared positive emotion and connection are the essential building components of good relationships.  It’s in these moments that your brain, biochemistry and behaviors mirror each other, create a motivation to care about the other, and push you to invest in the other’s well-being.   These experiences are the core of what builds connection and a sense of closeness between two people.  And we can actively create more of these opportunities in our lives and in our relationships.

Positivity Resonance in Action

In my Science of Happiness keynotes and trainings, I have my audience do a simple gratitude exercise, where they write down 3 specific things they are grateful for (details here).  This is a well-known path to increasing happiness and it always creates a sense of contentment in the room and lots of smiles.  Then, as a follow up exercise, I have them pair off — one shares something from their list while the other one is instructed to listen intently.  As people share, the energy in the room absolutely erupts as many participants start to experience this positivity resonance.  They sync up as the listener starts to feel the positive emotions of the one sharing.  After the exercise, people consistently share that, not only do they feel great from the exercise but they feel close to the person they shared with, even when they’d never spoken more than a couple words together before.

As I watch these pairs of people connect, I notice they are often mirroring each other’s facial expressions and hand movements.  They lean in and are animated in their stories.  The research shows that if we could look into their bodies, we’d see the activity in their brains also mirroring one another, their physiology and heart rate doing the same dance, and certain connecting hormones (such as oxytocin)being released at the same time.  These shared emotions and this shared connection cause an entire symphony of biological synchrony, which leads to a sense of knowing the other person, of seeing them as they are rather than as we categorize them from afar.  And this leads to a mutual understanding and a desire to help the other.  This is connection at its best.  And it is this process repeated over time that makes friends of strangers, good friends of acquaintances and intimates of friends.  It’s the continued shared positive experiences that bind together long-term partners, family and close friends.

How to Create Positivity Resonance

These times of connection clearly happen on their own at times, but think of how much stronger your relationships can be (and how much more fun connecting with others could be) if you can open this kind of resonance more often.

Some general  tips:

  • Invest in your happiness.  When you are happy you are more likely to think beyond your self-interest to help and connect with others.  Your happiness also puts others at ease and helps to open others in a similar way.  This blog is full of ways to increase your happiness and the happiness habits, posted here, share simple proven and powerful practices you can do each day to tap into more positive emotions in your life.
  • Slow down and be present.  We all live at such a breakneck pace, constantly doing, doing, doing.  This doesn’t give time for the kind of bonding and connection that build into positivity resonance.  If you are constantly thinking about the next thing you need to do, you’ll never be open to these connecting experiences.   Let yourself fully be with the person that you are with right now.
  • Set a positive social script. Make a point to start conversations with a positive story or something you are grateful for.  Ask positive questions about what’s going well in their life or something good that happened to them today.  It sometimes takes people by surprise to start a conversation this way, but most of us are happy to dive in with a good story, setting the stage for resonance.  Take that risk to ask.
  • Listen deeply.  When you notice someone sharing a positive story or experience, bring your attention to them.  Let go of what you might say and let their words flow.  Lean in toward them, nod your head, use affirmative sounds, meet their eyes, ask encouraging questions.   Try to open up to the positive feelings they are experiencing.

Specific tips for developing positivity resonance with those already in your life

  • Relive shared experiences (memories). Carve out time to remember fun times together – trips, parties, adventures you’ve had.  Relive the details, share the stories, and put yourselves there as much as you can.  Your emotional centers don’t know the difference between imagining those experiences vs. actually doing them.  Let the energy build.
  • Anticipate an upcoming fun event together.  Planning a vacation?  Excited about a concert or upcoming escapade?  Talk about the details that you are looking forward to.  Put yourself there.  Build the excitement together.
  • Share gratitude – Like I do in my Science of Happiness keynotes I described above, do a gratitude exercise together.  Share what’s good in your life with each other.   Bonus points if you share the things you appreciate about the other one (see this post).

Specific tips for developing positivity resonance with new people you come across

  • Be ready anywhere.  Make a game of finding little bits of resonance throughout your day.   Try bringing a smile and a willingness to chat to the checkout lady or the person at the bus stop or anywhere around your office.
  • With people you want to get to know, look to find common ground – shared passions, hobbies, interests, groups.  Or shared experiences as parents/grandparents, or places you’ve visited. Share the things that make you happy and when you find a shared passion or interest, bring up some stories, or ask good questions to get them to share.

It’s not that we should try to turn every conversation toward the positive or that we should spend every minute looking for these types of connections.  It’s simply about creating more space to listen and to seed some of our daily interactions with positive intent.  And when we find some positivity, stay with it, and build it with the other person.  If we are proactive at this a few times a day, we will naturally create more positivity resonance.  This in turn will bond us more closely with the people in our lives and with our communities, leading us to experience more happiness, more connection and more love.  This is the wonderful stuff of life.  Tap into it more.

Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach

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