Welcome to Positivity Practice #3! This week we’re talking about Serenity. If you are just joining us, we are in the beginning throes of our 10 weeks of practice. These 10 practices are based on the 10 areas of positive emotions from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.
If you recall, each week we are going to learn ways to “broaden and build” upon positive emotions, Dr. Fredrickson’s bedrock philosophy. However, she cautions that positive emotions can be fragile and fleeting, so it’s important not to over analyze them. The most important thing is to be open to them and to savor them.
Serenity: the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
Synonyms: hush, placiddness, quietude, repose, restfulness, stillness, tranquility
I’ve been looking forward to writing this post all week. Just thinking about serenity sets off positive chemicals afloat in my body. I love Dr. Fredrickson’s take on this topic. She calls serenity the “afterglow emotion” that makes you want to sit back and soak in other forms of positivity like joy, pride, amusement, or awe.
Two Types of Serenity
As I see it, there are two types is serenity: external serenity and internal serenity. While Dr. Fredrickson is primarily talking about internal serenity, it’s worth talking about our exterior environments (which can affect this internal emotion).
Think of external serenity as the safe, quiet space or environment that can facilitate feeling more calm, relaxed, and tranquil. It’s a place to settle into without worry or concern. The easiest way to find external serenity is to go find it. Think of a removed vacation destination with no internet connection or a secluded cabin on the lake. That’s a great way to plan for a trip, but let’s find serenity a little closer to home.
One of the first things that come to mind is nature. Nature can have an extremely positive impact on our health and wellbeing. In fact, it has a name, “forest bathing!” For those of you living outside of a city, you may be lucky to have nature closer to your doorstep than city dwellers. I finally visited the Tenafly Nature Center. just two towns away from me nestled in crowded suburbs of northern New Jersey. If you live in a city, research for botanical gardens. You’d be amazed at the beautiful hidden gems just a subway stop or two away. How do you find serenity close to home?
How about right in your home? I can hear the crowd shouting back at me – “What are you talking about, I’ve got three kids and a dog. There is no serenity in my house!” Bollocks, I say. It just takes some effort, innovation, and boundaries. I found a piece of serenity in my closet where I meditate on a lambskin rug. I also have a piece of serenity in my oversize tub, a true luxury I don’t take enough advantage of. Most importantly, if you do live in a busy household, try a serenity calendar to give each other that space to create.
How can you facilitate external serenity if you don’t have so much peace and quiet around you? MUSIC, SWEET MUSIC! With streaming music at our fingertips it’s easier than ever to put on the headphones and plug right in. Listening to certain kinds of music can not only make us relax (say Spa music) or it can be used as a catalyst to remember and savor a great vacation (say Reggae). In preparation for writing this blog, I’ve been listening to really relaxing music during my entire morning commute and in my office all day long just to keep a more serene environment amongst the hustle and bustle. Sometimes playing this music especially in the hustle and bustle, is like having a soundtrack to life itself, and something that makes me savor the experience and feel serene.
Now we’re getting to the meaty part. Serenity is not just about finding a quiet space to savor a positive emotion, it’s allowing ourselves to actually experience it. That’s not so easy if you are hard on yourself. You can be in the most serene place on earth but not feel it. You could have just hit a triple and score the winning run but chide yourself for not getting a home run. It’s why I find mindfulness and meditation such useful tools. They help us notice the negative chatter and to course correct it.
Internal serenity is also learning how to tame our habitual and chronic stress reactions. I love one of the definitions of serenity above: the state of being untroubled. Practicing relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, can be the first step to getting to that state!
I am reminded of the running “Serenity Now” bit on Seinfeld made famous by George’s father, Frank Costanza (played by the brilliant Jerry Stiller). Although the judgement’s still out on his particularly methodology, reminding ourselves to be less troubled can allow us to better take in those serene moments when they are deserved.
Alas, serenity is also that sweet spot where effort meets reward. Big or small. Recognized or unrecognized. It’s in that almost nameless space, but the one usually marked by a broad smile and a big sigh. In fact, I am feeling quite serene after writing this post.
What ways can you bring more serenity into your life today and for the tomorrows to come. Please feel free to share them with me!