Positive Elevation improves health

The other day I heard someone say that a particular person was their own worst enemy. An idea that is familiar to many of us. The good news is – that just as it is possible to talk oneself “down” it is also possible to do the opposite – to uplift and encourage one self.

I’m not talking about narcissism or ego – more the idea that by living in an encouraging environment we can all give ourselves a helping hand. Encouragement is different to over praising.

A few weeks back I watched a TEDxMelbourne talk by Professor Lea Waters on Being positive is not for the faint hearted

“Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at The University of Melbourne, Lea has been imparting insights into the benefits of positive psychology to schools, corporates, not for profits and individuals for the past 19 years. Lea believes that positive psychology is about more than just promoting happiness. It seeks to enhance wellbeing by encouraging accomplishment, healthy relationships and positive emotions.”

When we are young we know everything (of course) but when we get a bit older we realise that there is a lot more to life, the universe and everything and that the personal messages we tell ourselves have a lot to do with how we manage the ups and downs of life.

One of the ideas that Prof Waters mentioned was called “the elevation effect.” One example she used was when the Olympics are on we often feel inspired to get out our running shoes and we feel inspired or elevated about our sporty selves.

“Elevation motivates those who experience it to open up to, affiliate with, and assist others. Elevation makes an individual feel lifted up and optimistic about humanity”.


“Compared to joy or amusement, people experiencing elevation were more likely to express a desire to perform kind or helpful actions for others, become better people, and imitate the virtuous exemplar.”

It turns out that there is quite a body of research around the health impacts of elevation as life affirming force. One researcher Jonathan Haidt:

“that powerful moments of elevation may act as a “mental reset button” by erasing cynical or pessimistic feelings and substituting them with feelings of hope, love, and a sensation of moral inspiration”.

Here is a TED talk by Haidt on Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

What I liked about Prof Waters talk is that she referenced the changes in her personal outlook. Her research is focussed on positive psychology. (Update: talk added on 2 Nov.)  It sounded like she had a personal revelation and was able to do something of a “reset” on her life (at least in part) by minimising the “bad news”; and the doubts that come from – say negative self-talk.

We all know about optimism and pessimism but looking at world events it seems easier to be pessimistic but according to Prof Lea Waters we can “reset” and re-tune ourselves by using the elevation effect to transform the way we think about life. One tip was “turn off the TV news”.

Many years ago I heard a teacher refer to a translation of the word “hope” as joyful expectation. from memory he was talking about the equivalent Greek words. It was probably poetic licence but to me at the time it seemed like a much richer way of looking at the future.

This Consuming Negative News Can Make You Less Effective at Work from HBR is a post that came across my desk a few weeks ago.

“Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day.”

It goes on to talk about the research.

“This survey contained a battery of positive psychology metrics to gauge things like stress and mood. We were stunned by the results (we even reran the analyses to double-check it) because the effects were much more significant and dramatic than we expected. Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”

Just today I spotted this story Texts to heart disease patients improve health: study

We all know a little encouragement goes a long way so it is great to hear of a practical example like this one.

“The health of people with coronary heart disease improved after they regularly received encouraging lifestyle text messages.

Their cholesterol, blood pressure and weight dropped, and they were much more likely to exercise regularly and become non-smokers when getting the texts.

Such strategies could prevent second heart attacks and save thousands of lives and health care dollars, say the Australian authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.”