Archive for March 2016

Fostering Positive Emotion || Craig Freund

By Craig Freund, Affordable Counseling Program Intern
New posts every other Tuesday

A great deal of psychological and self-help literature is largely focused on how to deal with unfortunate life circumstances and associated emotions. Similarly, therapy often focuses on working with traumatic past events or challenging negative thought patterns. Even in conversation with our close friends we might talk about how to deal with depression or how to manage our anxiety. All too often it seems that we hope to find wellness through discussing these negative details. However, a more recent and deeply profound movement in the world of mental health has been dubbed positive psychology.

Positive psychology is the science and research of what it is that makes people happy.

Fortunately, pioneers in this domain of mental wellness have made important discoveries. We’ve come to learn that we can intentionally work to foster positive emotions in our daily lives. While it is certainly necessary to work with traumatic experiences or to discuss the deep sadness of a depressed state, it is also important to understand that as we move through negative emotions we must replace these with positive more helpful emotions. As we overcome depression or work through anxiety, we must also work towards promoting the development of positive emotion in our everyday lives.


When it comes to fostering positive emotion, we must deliberately engage in activities that bring us joy and happiness. With this, fostering positive emotion occurs with purposeful attempts to improve our emotional well-being. This seemingly sensible step towards wellness occurs where common sense meets intentionality. In general, we are aware of certain environments, activities or individuals that promote positive emotion within ourselves.

By taking our understanding of activities that we love and by actively engaging in these activities, we take a simple understanding of the things we enjoy and apply this to promote positive emotion within our life experience.

This is certainly easier said than done, especially if you happen to be in a depressed or highly anxious state of mind. By keeping this principle in mind and by taking even small steps to engage in these positive activities, the hope is that the light will eventually outshine the darkness and that any unwelcome emotions will be transformed into a more enjoyable life experience.

The first example of potential avenues for fostering positive emotion is with positive activities.

This might range from cooking a meal, painting a picture, cleaning your home or even staring at the clouds. Although the most effective positive activities will certainly vary from one individual to the next, everyone likely has a collection of these sorts of activities and if you don’t, compiling a list of positive activities may be the best place to start. Along with this, exercise is one way in which we can foster positive emotion in our lives.

A great deal of research has shown that exercise releases neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being. Additionally, when we exercise we often feel positive for engaging in an activity that we know is beneficial for our health. These first suggestions for fostering positive emotion in our lives may seem fairly obvious, but by intentionally utilizing these to foster positive emotions we can begin to experience wellness.

Another activity that can be used to foster positive emotion is humor; you might watch a comedy, look up jokes or find some humorous videos online.

Laughter or any expression of humor is a natural way to ease tension, relieve stress or to simply feel better.

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, a good belly laugh can really lift the spirits. By actively seeking laughter and by finding humor in simple everyday quirks, we can take an active role in fostering positive emotion in our lives. Imagine feeling down and in the dumps, then while watching your favorite comedian you begin to laugh and find yourself relieved to be feeling less depressed. This is a simple technique for fostering positive emotion known as opposite emotion action. With this technique we simply identify how we are feeling and identify an action that would allow us to feel the opposite.

In another example, if you’re feeling low, possibly related to a poor self-image, you decide that an opposite emotion action might be to get a haircut. By engaging with the opposite emotion action we are better able to foster the positive emotions that we’d like to have more of in our lives.

Yet another well researched and empirically validated technique for intentionally fostering positive emotion in our lives is the practice of gratitude.

We all have so much to be grateful for, we can be grateful for the ability to make choices, for basic necessities, for loved ones or even for beautiful weather.

Regardless of what it is that we are grateful for, counting these blessings on a regular basis will foster positive emotion in our lives. We all have certain characteristics that we can be grateful for and by reminding ourselves of these characteristics or attributes we can further foster positive emotion.


By taking advantage of positive self-affirmations, we can experience the positive emotions that often come with a healthy self-image. For example, one exercise focused on promoting positive emotion, is to make a list of self-affirmations, this might range from a reminder that you are smart, funny or at the very least unique. If you’re having difficulty with this exercise, check-in with a positive or supportive friend or family member for ideas. Once you’ve got a healthy list of positive self-affirmations, put them on separate slips of paper and place these slips into a jar. Anytime you’re feeling down, pull an affirmation out of the jar and remind yourself how blessed you truly are. These affirmations can also be incredibly helpful to deliberately challenge those negative thoughts that can creep into our consciousness.

Finally, when engaging in activities that are intentionally directed at fostering positive emotion in your life, it is helpful to bring a mindful presence to each activity.

By being fully present with each exercise, we are better able to take advantage of all that each activity has to offer.

Intentionally focus on every detail of the activity, notice your own emotions and pay close attention to the positive emotions as they begin to arise. Although each technique for fostering positive emotion is certainly powerful, it’s possible that you may be feeling so stuck that you are unable to engage in these or that the positive impact is fleeting at best.

If you find yourself in this situation you may benefit from some time with a psychotherapist. A trained psychotherapist can help you to overcome anything that might be preventing you from fostering positive emotion in your life. In summary, take charge of your life, become a happier more joyful person and intentionally work to foster positive emotion in your life.

 -Be Intentional

 -Engage in Positive Activities

-Opposite Emotion Action

    -Express Gratitude

    -Find Humor

    -Utilize Self-Affirmations

    -Challenge Negative Thoughts

    -Reflect & Embody Positive Experiences 


About the Author: Craig is one of the many exceptional interns working in the People House Affordable Counseling Program. With over 4 years of experience as a Mental Health Counselor working in residential, crisis and hospital settings, Craig is a wonderful addition to the People House community. Craig is a gentle, compassionate and genuine person who works to tailor his therapeutic approach to the specific needs of each and every individual. He enjoys working with a wide variety of individuals with various life experiences and personal interests. For more information or to contact Craig, please see his therapist bio.

Spirituality in Daily Life: How do we Know, What we Know to be True? Critical Realism as a Guide to the Real ||Mary Coday Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

My reality includes an interconnected universe, full of potentialities and one where my efforts matter.

How do I justify these claims of knowledge of what I believe to be true about reality?

How we think the world IS determines our actions in this world

For example, ancient cultures supposed the earth was flat. Based on that reality, drifting off in your fishing boat from the coastal area was a scary undertaking. Not having Google Earth, these cultures depended upon their regional experts for exploration guidance.

What is your mode of truth seeking, your theory of knowledge, in other words–your epistemology? Table 1 lists three categories (1):

Table 1: Three Broad Epistemological Theories

Epistemology Its Path to Reliable Knowledge Ultimate Authority
Religious Revelation Revelation: either through direct experience (mysticism) OR in a received tradition (scripture & culture) Divine reality
Scientific Materialism The scientific method tells us what is; matter is the fundamental reality of the universe Science
Postmodern Relativism There is none. Truth is a process of social construction; cultural power determines truth & thus behavior. Scientific rationalism is under suspect as it is seen as another form of social domination.

There is none. Postmodernism speaks againt all grand theories and metanarratives. Truth is just the dominant cultural pattern.

I use all three, and all tempered with critical realism (see Table 2)–but more of that further into this blog.

Personally, I am deeply suspicious of any worldview or world picture that claims to be the absolute truth. However, there are not enough hours in the day and years in my life to understand everything well enough before I can make a decision as to what is truth and subsequently, how to live my life.

About 25 years ago I did venture forth on that quest in typical quixotic zealousness. I was sitting at my desk in Peshawar, Pakistan, planning how we were going to feed the thousands of Afghan refugees returning to a war-pocked Afghan countryside (this is pre-Taliban and post-former USSR days), and I was looking for an absolute value.

ME 3.22

Greening fields, Istalif, Afghanistan; near Kabul

The Green Revolution had come to Afghanistan. We were increasing crop production through the use of modified seeds which required substantial increases in pesticides and fertilizers, and our European donors wanted agricultural projects that reduced or prevented groundwater pollution.  At the time, we couldn’t see a win/win solution.

Looking back on it, I now know it isn’t either/or, but and/both

At the time my Afghan colleagues and I chaffed at this clash of values between East and West, this “colonial imperialism”. We came around of course, as polluted water supplies aren’t supportive of a healthy population (think Flint, Michigan), but I soon hit the moral philosophy books, looking for an apex ethic that would guide my actions. In my naivety, I wanted something that would always be right, in all situations.

Only to find out that there really isn’t any.

But what I did discover rocked my world.

The As-If Function: Critical Realism Opens Us Up to Further Discovery

Physicist/theologian Ian Barbour says the meaning of truth is correspondence with reality (2), but reality is inaccessible to us. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we still don’t know what the inside of an atom looks like (3). But if the scientific community had waited until we knew with absolute certainty how an atom’s quark functioned, we’d still be using rotary phones.

Therefore, we have a form of realism, in that some aspects of the physical world are accessible to us, but it is a critical realism because our scientific– and spiritual–constructs are also reflections of the imagination and intuition of our human minds; they are extrapolations.

John Polkinghorne speaks similarly, saying critical realism is a means to bridge the gap between what we can know about entities to what they actually are and regardless, requires a metaphysical choice (4).

This is living with–and loving–mystery. Only a tiny fraction of the physical universe can humankind understand, let alone explain. The same is true of my spiritual universe; I have limited intimations and experiential glimpses of its vastness and potentialities

However, if I waited until I could live this life with absolute certainty–what I set out to do when I left my desk in Peshawar– I’d be living a life uncommitted to anything. I’d want absolute certainty of the goodness or rightness of any system, set of rules, or ideology. I’d be paralyzed with immobility.

By committing myself to the world picture outlined in my opening sentence, I also open myself up to further discovery. Scientists commit themselves to models and then allow their imaginations and intuition to carry on their creative, scientific endeavors, to see other connections.

Therefore,  I elect to live my life based on critical realism’s as-if function: I live my life as if the world is interconnected, as if it’s full of potentialities, and as if my efforts matter (see Table 2). This does not translate into a shifting reality based on last night’s pizza. I, too, rely on experts to help me navigate my world, but I choose carefully those whom I tentatively follow. Hallmarks of worthy guides are those with humility and acceptance of mystery. These guides dwell among the mystics and poets, spiritual organizations such as People House, and the scientific community.

In the blogs following, we’ll take a look at spiritual concepts emerging from the world revealed to us through quantum mechanics. They are foundational to my as-if realities. Until then, as I encouraged in my previous blogs, pay attention through mindfulness practices to what YOUR reality looks like!

Table 2: An Epistemology of Critical Realism

Epistemology Its Path to Reliable Knowledge Ultimate Authority
Critical realism The “as if” function; a leap of faith, bridging the gap between what we can know about entities vs. what they actually are. None, but courage & humility to take a chance with limited knowledge, knowing we may be completely wrong.

Note 1: Grassie, Billy. Quaker Epistemology: Towards a Friends Philosophy. Presentation to the Friends Association for Higher Education at Haverford College, June 24, 1995. Also, keep in mind these are broad philosophical sweeps which obscure many differences and distinctions of knowing, such as psychological, moral, spiritual, biophysical, and aesthetic.

Note 2: Barbour , Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997:110

Note 3: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 4: Polkinghorne, J.C.  Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven: Yale Univeristy Press, 1998:53

About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Spring Cleaning Part One – Cleaning/Loving our Surroundings|| Lora Cheadle

By Lora Cheadle
New posts every other Tuesday

Spring is almost here, which means it’s time for spring cleaning! We take care of what we love, so as far as I’m concerned, the words cleaning and loving are interchangeable. To keep things simple, I’m doing two brief blogs on spring cleaning; one on cleaning/loving our surroundings and one on cleaning/loving ourselves.

spring loving

Why are these blogs going to be brief? Because there have already been volumes written about how to clean your surroundings and how to cleanse your body and there’s nothing new that I can provide. A Google search or a trip to the library will provide you all the information you need about how to clean out or cleanse. What I want to do is provide you with a slightly different perspective about cleaning out.

Everything around us provides us with sensory input. Everything we see, hear, feel, taste, smell and intuit provides us with information. Our brains, like any computer, have limited capacity. Quite simply, the more unnecessary information we fill our brains with, the less room we leave for important information.  Having stuff around you that you don’t love distracts you from what you want to accomplish by taking up needless brain room.  

No, you don’t have to be a minimalist, but you should surround yourself with stuff that is peaceful and pleasing to you. We all prefer different types of surroundings, sounds, lighting and scent, so take some time to figure out what works best for you.

Go through the five senses and think about what brings you joy and makes you feel harmonious and happy.

Sight: Lighting, windows, color, piles of stuff, neat stacks, baskets, drawers, clutter, plants, etc.

Sound: Silence, ambient sound, classical music, music with a heavy beat, lyrics, etc.

Smell: No smell, fresh clean scent, floral, candles, incense, food, etc.

Touch: Hand cream for dry skin, pens or pencils that feel good to the touch, temperature, hot, cold, etc.

Taste: Water, fresh mouth, mint, gum, coffee, sugary, etc.

Your personal preference is your personal preference, nothing is right or wrong.

Take some time and notice what feels good to you and make changes based on that. If you feel stressed walking into a sterile room, add plants or color or pictures or something that makes you feel peaceful. If clutter stresses you out, clean out, organize or find baskets or drawers to hide away all that stresses you out.

Cleaning out doesn’t necessarily mean throwing stuff away or donating it, (although those are wonderful ideas!) but it does mean cleaning out everything in your surroundings that stresses you out and don’t bring you joy and peace.

Love it or leave it, it’s that simple!


About the Author: Not sure what lights your fire, or do you know exactly what lights your fire, but you keep spinning your wheels? Either way, Lora’s got you covered! Whether it’s through an Angel Reading or through hypnotherapy, where the subconscious mind is brought on board with the conscious mind, working with Lora reveals your divine path and gets you chugging down the road in no time. As a former lawyer, (She knows firsthand the courage it takes to following a new path!) Lora is very straight forward and process- oriented, using modalities that that yield results. No crystal balls or goddess robes here! See more on her website. 

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth