Science is now discovering what artists have long understood: that nurturing our feelings is vital to the quality of our lives and that intellect and feeling are intimately connected. For the past 300 years the dominant view in Western culture has been that intelligence is mainly to do with certain sorts of logic and reason.
Vaillant argues that the negative emotions originate in the older parts of the human brain and are dedicated to individual survival. The positive emotions evolved later and are what bind us to each other: “The positive emotions are more expansive and help us to broaden and build. They widen our tolerance, expand our moral compass and enhance our creativity… Experiments document that while negative emotions narrow attention … positive emotions, especially joy, make thought patterns far more flexible, creative, integrative and efficient.” For thirty-five years, Vaillant directed the Harvard Study of Adult Development. “In the first 30 years leading the study,” he says, “I learned that positive emotions were intimately connected to mental health.”
Being mindful is not about improbable poses and relentless optimism. Learning to live mindfully, say Smalley and Winston, “does not mean living in a perfect world, but rather living a full and contented life in a world in which both joys and challenges are givens.”