Non-serious Social Incongruity

It’s clearly my drug of choice. Let me explain.

This morning, in the wee hours after a good night’s post-impeachment rest, I watched a man turn a large rusty nail into a tiny, perfect sword (fit for a sturdy mouse warrior) and learned of the sea shanty craze on TikTok. I even sang along. However, a fellow Tweeter pondered the appeal? Why sea shanties? Why now?

I’d like to add “non-serious social incongruity” (aka “amusement”) to the list of reasons for this sudden popularity (see that link above): “easy to learn,” “easy to sing,” and “unifying, survivalist songs.” These songs are historical throwbacks and have little to do with most people’s modern lives, hence the social incongruity. The very oddness of this unlikely trend also adds to its appeal. Sea shanties are nerdy. They blend well with my already long list of special, consuming interests (many of which are represented in this blog). (Personally sea shanties also remind me of a happier time, the years when my young children and I would attend the annual performances of The California Revels in Oakland, CA.)

Amusement as a Positive Emotion

A couple of years ago I took Barbara Fredrickson’s positive psychology course on Coursera. My main take-away was her idea of creating “positivity portfolios” as a way to provide quick hits of positive emotions throughout the day. I realized that no matter how low I go, amusement and interest can always provide me with a way up and out. I began to assemble an online file of things that make me grin: memes, cat video links, websites, and so on. I have plenty of books but most are interesting not amusing (I need collections of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons). I don’t always remember to do it, but this practice of intentionally dosing myself with amusement and interest has served me well through most of this pandemic.

However this last week since the Jan. 6 white supremacist insurrection attempt, I should have tempered my hypervigilant doom-scrolling with dose of snarky commentary from the webpages of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. My attempt at similar humor: “Cooking with 7-Up?” –epic neo-nazi fails never tasted so good! Here boys, drown your post-sedition sorrows with a frosty glass of lemon-lime soda. It’s in your gelatin salad too! Just like mother used to make!”

Screen shot of page from the Gallery of Regrettable Food: http://lileks.com/institute/gallery/sevenup2/4.html

Now I don’t mean to imply a link between 7Up (currently owned by Keurig Dr Pepper) and white supremacists and neo-nazis. I’m using the above recipe example purely for vintage cuisine humor. However it’s interesting to look at the company’s 2020 political donations to federal represenatives and senators. An examination of the 2020 Keurig Dr Pepper PAC donations reveals only one donation to a congressperson who ended up voting on Jan. 6th to contest the 2020 federal election results (Yourish, Buchanan & Lu, “The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 7, 2021). That was Represenatative Richard Hudson (R/NC) for $1,000. Five of the seventeen representatives who received 2020 donations from the Keurig Dr Pepper PAC voted against the 2021 impeachment: Van Taylor (R/TX) for $8,000; Vickey Hartzler (R/MO) for $5,000; Dan Krenshaw (R/TX) for $2,000; Ron Estes (R/TX) for $2,000; and again, Richard Hudson (R/NC) (mentioned above). (OpenSecrets.org is the source of the above campaign donation information.) So, could be worse…

And here I find I’ve spiraled over to “interest” as another positive emotion, which means I could easily do a prolonged dive into the weasel burrow of political campaign donations and the food corporations responsible for regrettable recipes. I suppose I’d better get into the main purpose of this blog: how to make skillful use of positive emotions.

Positivity Portfolio – A Way to Keep Sane in These Pandemic Times

I mentioned Fredrickson’s “positivity portfolios” earlier. The idea is simple. Collect things that trigger and nourish the following emotions. Put the collection(s) in a place where you can find them. Access them as often as you need to remember that something about this life is actually good. In fact, it’s a good practice to do this several times a day.


Table of positive emotions based on the Positive Psycholoogy course taught by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.

As I look back on life since mid-March, I’ve experienced positive emotions mostly through amusement, interest, and inspiration (the latter mostly through my novel-writing). Love hurts too much since I’m entirely alone except for my cats and haven’t seen my children or friends in all this time. I make an effort to cultivate serenity via meditation and devotional practices, but serenity is not as emotionally powerful as amusement, interest, and inspiration. I experience gratitude but often it feels intellectual–not quite enough to distract me emotionally from my plight (and the plight of everyone else in this world). We are, after all, living in the midst of multi-facted existential crises and I don’t know about you, but I need strong medicine for prolonged high threat situations.

One of Fredrickson’s articles was critiqued for the maths used by her co-author, M.F. Losada, in Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing (American Psychologist, 2005). Here is her response to that critique). I notice that pleasure/sexual desire/lust are positive emotions that are not included in the above table. As a sexologist, I say it’s important to not deny those sources of positive feeling, but for some of us shutting down might be easier than being in touch with our desires and physical needs. If that’s the case, opening back up again may take some work in a safer post-pandemic world. Fantasies, fandom, erotica (yes, that too!), music, performance, and dance might allow those who have shut down to open back up again.

Speaking of Gratitude

My experience of gratitude as an emotion is less intellectual when I think of what I’ve been lucky enough to access. Aside from long-distance connections with family and friends, here are my personal shout-outs to some of the things that have kept me emotionally nourished in these last several months (in no particular order):

AMUSEMENTINTERESTINSPIRATION
The Untamed series on NetflixThe Untamed The Untamed
Videos of Chinese street dancing performances & swordplay choreographyMy own writing – novel & blogFantasy casting of my characters
Dragula (three seasons)Daniel Foor’s courses thru ancestralmedicine.orgAlso Daniel Foor’s courses
The work of Disasterina & Ave RoseStudy of magic, witchery & sorceryAidan Wachter’s books
My seven catsBooks on pandemics & historyNorse Loki Laufeyjarson
Cat videosReading Covid-19 researchNaNoWriMo.org
Sea shanties on TikTokCreating & teaching hypnosis coursesMovements for social justice & enviromental action
The Gallery of Regrettable FoodGenealogy & ancestor workDreaming, meditation & trancework
Succumbing to geeky fandom without shameCo-hosting a podcastFavorite authors
The local turkey flock in my yardPlotting escape from Lake CountyHow my kids are handling all this
Some ways I access positive emotions.

I hope this blog post helps other people understand how they can engage in conscious cultivation of positive emotions. Please let me know if anything is particularly helpful, using the comments features. Thanks!

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Love and Unholy Glee: Loki and the Positivity Ratio

Loki depicted as a shirtless god with long red hair and horns. One boot missing. Jewelry, skull belt, hands above head. Bent knees. Dark trees and crescent moon in background.
One of my favorite Loki Images, by A. Sceithhailim on DeviantArt. You can purchase this print! I did! Go to https://www.deviantart.com/sceith-a/gallery/49128055/Laufeyjar-sonr

Loki is great for my Positivity Ratio! I could never have dreamt I’d find such a rich source of positive emotions in the service (and the metaphysical arms) of a notorious trickster god!

This morning I woke up to find yet another clever Loki-themed meme posted on social media (I will share it at the bottom of this post). The meme caused me to experience immediate pleasure in the form of amusement–the kind I classify as “unholy glee”–as well as a feeling of an almost blissful love. That’s one of the many perks of being a Lokean–access to endless witicisms and scads of great artwork inspired by our favorite Norse deity (example at left) or his deft Midgardian cosplayer, Marvel Loki.

So, what is this Positivity Ratio? Psychologist and researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., has found that we in Midgard need a diet rich in positive emotions in order to thrive. The minimum ration is three positive emotions to every negative one. I learned about Dr. Frederickson’s work through her free Coursera class on Positive Psychology. You can check your own emotional nutrition by taking her Positivity Ratio test online.

You’ll notice in the list below that “happiness” is not included in the list. It’s too vague. Instead, Fredrickson lists happy-making emotions as elements (nutrients!) that can enrich an emotional diet. The idea is, you can do this deliberately, just as you can choose to add vitamin supplements or a fresh salad to your daily menu.

B. Fredrickson 10 Positive Emotions

Now, when I took Fredrickson’s online course, I was in bad shape: I’d moved away from California and was desperately homesick, I was waiting for my divorce to finalize, a love affair had soured, I had developed a bad case of social anxiety, and so on. I was often alone, depressed, and hopeless. But when I encountered the above list, I realized that no matter how bad I felt, I could ALWAYS access Interest and Amusement. In other words, learning new things like magic (interest) and watching cat videos (amusement) could improve my mood, even if the improvement just lasted a minute or two.

Increasing the daily frequency of such emotions could–and did–build my resilience over time. Resilience is key.

I would say that Loki the trickster represents a deified personification of “Nonserious Social Incongruity” aka “Amusement” (among other things). I tried to get at this in a previous post, My Lord, I Offer Thee…Twisted Humor.

Through my devotion to Loki and my other deities, I access nine out of ten of the above positive emotions. Certainly I feel Love, Awe, Gratitude, along with Interest and Amusement. The only emotion that I don’t seem to experience in this context is Pride.

I never thought I’d understand what religious practices and beliefs did for people, but after a couple of years of my own daily devotions, now I think I do. Our imagined but not imaginary companions–gods, goddesses, non-binary deities, spirits, ancestors, etc.–present an opportunity to engage and enlarge ourselves through the above emotions as well as the larger beings we’ve contacted. I have a little more empathy now for people who are “high on Jesus” and those who have similar evangelical fervor regarding other deities. They think the rest of us are missing out on the bliss they experience. They don’t understand why others may reject their particular source (which they feel must be the ONLY source). They don’t understand that it may not be the specific deity or set of practices that provide that bliss, it’s the repeated, deliberate connection with something (anything!) larger that provides the emotions that eventually coalesce into a feeling of grace.

I should add that states of grace can be experienced through creative, intellectual, or generous actions–it’s not just a “gift of the gods.”

But for me, Loki is the fast track to all kinds of emotional goodies. When I wake up to a meme like this (based on Marvel’s Midgardian cos-player), I laugh, I feel glee, I swipe the meme and post it myself. I laugh at myself when I do it. And I enjoy people’s reactions. I am amused. And this improves my emotional diet, which can then be tracked via my positivity ratio.

This is just the beginning–sharing such emotional goodies with others is also a way to amplify them. That’s partly why our Lokean community is so vital. We can easily increase our Positivity Ratio by harvesting positive emotions through our Loki-related sharing.

It all makes perfect sense now.

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Google Image search did not reveal original source. I do not own this image. I found it on Facebook.

Hail Loki! God of Nonserious Social Incongruity!

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