A Cornell University researcher has suggested that positive emotions may help people in healing and easing their pain.
Anthony Ong, Assistant Professor of Human Development, says that his observations are based on experiments to learn how emotional states of mind influence physical and mental well-being.
Ong suggests that a person's ability to feel contradictory emotions, such as happiness and grief, might reveal a deeper truth about human's capacity for resilience in the face of life's adversities.
"Our ability to feel contradictory emotions such as happiness and grief, as well as anger and gratitude may reveal a deeper truth about ourselves -- our human capacity for resilience in the face of life's adversities," Ong said.
In the study, Ong asked the participants to keep diaries, and respond to standard questions at the same time each day.
To gauge social connectedness, for example, Ong asked about the accuracy of a statement like: "I know that I can trust my friends, and they know they can trust me."
The volunteers experiencing negative emotions might report their feelings with such words as afraid, ashamed, guilty, hostile, irritable or nervous.
By contrast, positive emotions were characterized by such adjectives as active, attentive, determined, enthusiastic, inspired, proud or strong.
People who reported feeling distressed and determined in the same day, or guilty and proud, were probably on the healthy side of normal because they had achieved what some psychologists call a state of mindfulness.
"Mindful individuals can reconcile and even embrace contradictory emotions in all of their complexity," Ong said.
Ong believes that people in a healthy state of mindfulness could wilfully choose to focus on their positive emotions, and perhaps even expedite their healing or at least ease their pain.
"It's not an easy thing to do. People living with chronic stressors, such as pain, never know when it will hit. It's one of the toughest kind of stresses around ... which is why we're interested in people's emotional states at times like that," Ong said.
The researcher further said that the ability to sustain a life with quality might depend on doing just the opposite.
"It may be in the context of significant life challenges that our true capacity to experience joy, love and gratitude is most dramatically manifested," Ong said.
Ong believes that the study may help him discover the biological mechanisms that underlie some brave souls' capacity to thrive and get better, and how emotions can influence biological processes.
The study has been reported in Cornell Human Ecology Magazine.