A tall man stands in front of the room holding up a half a human cranium (which eerily resembles the bowl from which I ate my Thai food the night before). This Tibetan Skull Cup is used in Tantric Buddhist rituals to symbolize impermanence and a quest for an empty mind. This symbol sets the tone for the evening’s lecture.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Sharon Salzberg share the stage at the Rubin Museum in New York City as part of their Brainwave Series exploring the intersection of mind and matter. Psychologist and meditation teacher together discuss the Western science of Eastern practices of meditation.
One of Barbara Fredrickson’s contributions to the field of positive psychology is the understanding of the purpose that positive emotions play in the human experience, to broaden behavioral repertoires and build durable resources. She describes 3 to 1 as a tipping point: people who are often above a ratio of three positive emotions to every negative emotion are more likely to flourish. Meditation is a powerful way to increase the positivity ratio.Sharon Salzberg teaches many Eastern approaches to cultivating a flourishing life.
One of the most powerful is the loving kindness meditation, also known as Metta Bhavana. This practice involves cultivating and sending out a sense of love and well-being to all sentient beings. (Visit here for a guided loving kindness meditation).
Fredrickson cited recent field research on 139 adults randomly assigned to practice daily loving kindness meditation and attend workshops, or to be on a wait list control group for a total of 9 weeks. The basis for the study was to test the hypothesis that loving kindness meditation could increase positive emotions, which would increase durable resources, in turn increasing life satisfaction. Participants directed loving, kind feelings towards themselves, then to loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, and finally, all beings.The research indicated that practicing loving kindness meditation increased positive emotions including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, amusement and awe. Participants also benefited from an increase in mindfulness, self-acceptance, positive relationships and good physical health, as well as increased life satisfaction.
According to Salzberg, “Negative emotions fixate and narrow our world view, who we are, what we are capable of and where our joy is to be found.” The Loving Kindness Meditation opens space for people to expand their perception of themselves and their connection to others.
Each meditation experience is unique. According to Fredrickson this is one of the beauties of meditation because it counters the hedonic treadmill—the tendency to adapt and experience lower levels of pleasure out of activities after doing them often.
According to Fredrickson’s research, positive emotions tend to be fleeting, less intense, less attention grabbing and more spread out than negative emotions. Daily practice of Loving Kindness Meditation can increase the frequency and potency of positive emotions, over time increasing our life satisfaction and building resources that support flourishing lives.
Fredrickson, B., Cohn, M., Coffey, K. A, Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (5), 1045–1062.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Salzberg, S. (1996). Track 08 from Loving Kindness Meditation. Sounds True Label.