by Anda Klavina
Recently, a participant in one of my positive psychology seminars told a story about doing some housecleaning and noticing that her cat was “helping.” She took a photo and immediately sent it to her parents, who live in another town. They all had a good laugh.
Had she waited for the next time she visited her parents to show them the snapshot of her helpful cat, she would have forgotten the moment, or she wouldn’t care about it anymore. “WhatsApp is really allowing our family to experience more positive emotions together,” she said.
Contrary to the general opinion that social media and other new technologies erode true social bonds and relationships, participants in my seminars testify to the opposite. “Our chat group where we share jokes and photos is my ‘funline’ during my overloaded day,” a CEO of a regional bank shared. “I have a look at a friend’s funny dog and feel cheerful for a while. And most importantly, it allows me to stay emotionally connected to my friends who live abroad.”
Participants tend to object to the assumption that extensive photographing of what they’re doing undermines the authentic experience. Many of them report that taking photographs while hiking in nature or just doing daily activities actually brings more awareness to what they are experiencing. It creates mindfulness. “I noticed when I take photographs in nature, I take a second look at, say, a flower. I enjoy it as it is and then again when I focus my camera on it,” says another participant, who praised her iPhone for helping her to keep depression at bay by being present in the moment.
“It’s not so much about looking for activities that arouse positive emotions in us but rather about noticing the moments we experience and [thereby] prolonging their effect,” Barbara Fredrickson, author of the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, explains. Her claim is that in order to grow and be healthy, we need regular infusions of positive emotions, just as we need a regular diet of vegetables and fruits. ‘’Positive emotions are vitamins that help us build a psychological reserve in order to deal with life’s challenges.’’ But positive emotions come and go, and we need to take special care to notice and savor them. That’s where technology can be a helpful tool for cultivating more positivity, if used in a mindful way.
“My iPhone’s Photos section is my happiness well,” says a department director of a bank. “Whenever I want to create a positive emotional state for myself, I just scroll through my photos. The memory is so large that it can accommodate photos from a long period of time. I don’t need to search for a special folder on my computer at home. My best memories are always with me.”
Responding to neuroscience research showing that photography is a powerful means to evoke certain emotional states, positive psychology practitioner Aija Bruvere of the University of Sydney created a special application, called Happiness Jar, where your can store your positive moments in the form of photographs, without having to share them with others or keeping them all on your phone. It provides ways to keep, sort, and enhance your memories, creating a “personal happiness story.” Another app, Bliss, offers a breadth of positive psychology practices, from happiness moments to a daily gratitude journal.
There are certainly those who report having negative emotions when they look at photography from happy times—along these lines: Look, we were so happy on that vacation. When will we get to go on a trip again? Our mortgage is so big, we won’t be able to afford another vacation anytime soon.
The key is to focus on the positive emotion. According to Fredrickson, by meditating about positive moments in our life, we can evoke the same emotion. And when we experience positive emotions, we see more opportunities and are more creative. So by inducing a positive state, you might be inspired to create the conditions that will lead to that next vacation.
Recently, I was looking at old photographs of me and my first boyfriend on our trip to Venice some 15 years ago. That feeling of being in love, the sense that anything is possible, the ease and leisure of Venice on a hot summer day … I was so inspired by the pure positivity of that time in my life that a couple days later, I went online and bought a ticket to another city in Southern Europe.
Yes, technology has negative effects. But we can reap its benefits by using it as a catalyst for savoring positive emotions—which by their very nature help us expand and grow.
Anda Klavina is a positive psychology practicioner and art consultant operating in Riga, Monte-Carlo, Basel, and around the globe. www.leaderswithguts.com.