The Positivity Portfolio can be a valuable tool for educators to create positive learning environments and promote wellbeing for students like Shaan. 

When I first met Shann, a young student with autism, he was being mainstreamed into a third-grade classroom. Downtime between classes, such as transitioning spaces, switching subjects, or any waiting period, made Shaan extremely anxious. 

His teachers tried behavioral modifications like earning tokens for sitting quietly and picking a book, but nothing worked, and Shaan continued engaging in stereotypic behavior (stimming). He was so anxious that it prevented him from being in class, so I tried a different approach—appealing to what we knew, and Shaan knew, made him intrinsically happy. 

Special interests are common for people with autism and can be a powerful method for autistic people to hyperfocus on the things that make them feel positive emotions. It didn’t take much time to learn that Shaan’s happy place lay within the world of planes and cruise ships. He loved watching them take off and land, looking at photos of them. Shaan created a Positivity Portfolio photo album to remind him of his happy place and to induce positive emotions. He kept a flipbook of pictures of jets taking off, cruise ships he admired, and cool planes he’d seen inside his desk. Soon, he was no longer anxious during waiting periods—he looked to his Positivity Portfolio to feel joy. 

So why did creating a Positivity Portfolio work for Shaan? Experiencing positive emotions is important for everyone, including people with autism. When anxiety is high, as in Shaan’s case, experiencing positive emotions can create an “undoing effect.” Research on the Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions finds that positive emotions help undo the physiological effects of negative emotions and can reduce harm in a positive way. When Shaan looked at his Positivity Portfolio, it not only made him happy in the moment, it started to have a physiological effect on his body, undoing some of the cardiovascular reactivity from anxiety. It also empowered him to proactively manage his emotions in a way that was intrinsically motivating. 

Positivity Portfolios increase our interactions with positive emotions, which therein promotes learning, engagement, skill acquisition, and creativity. It’s known as an upwards spiral. The more positive emotions you feel, the more your mind broadens and builds room for more positive emotions. When we induce positive emotions, our brain opens, enabling us to problem-solve and be more creative. Cortisol levels drop in the moment. Over time, the more we’re able to practice inducing positivity proactively and use it as a coping strategy, the more prepared we are for the inevitable stressful, negative situations. 

Many people do not realize emotions are fleeting. Our worst emotions don’t last very long in reality, but we worsen them by dwelling on them. Emotions can flow quickly if we let them. Positive emotions are fleeting, too, but we can train our brains to linger on positivity for enhanced wellbeing. If we can learn to proactively induce positive emotions and this becomes a positive habit and intentional practice, it turns into an upward spiral that, over time, can help build resilience for when negative emotions are high and times are tough. 

Building a Positivity Portfolio allows us to intentionally focus on positive emotions and cultivate more of them. By collecting experiences, memories, and triggers that evoke positive emotions, we empower ourselves to thrive and flourish. Whether in our personal lives or educational settings, the Positivity Portfolio is a powerful tool for nurturing wellbeing, building resilience, and fostering a positive mindset. So, start curating your Positivity Portfolio today and witness the transformative effects of feeling good!

Be well, 

Katie Curran

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