If you are like most people, you experience about 2 positive emotions to every 1 negative emotion. Not so bad, right? Right. But not so great either. This ratio makes for a life that may be described as, well...
Positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson has discovered a "tipping point" in human emotions - the point at which we go from ordinary to extraordinary, from languishing to...
This tipping point is 3:1. People who feel at least 3 heartfelt positive emotions to every one negative emotion experience a cascade of positive effects. It seems to be the frequency, not the intensity of the emotions, that matter. According to Dr. Fredrickson in her book, Positivity, flourishing goes beyond feeling good and being happy (although it includes those). People who flourish are extraordinarily effective. They are highly engaged with their families, their work and people around them. They are creative, have a sense of purpose and are full of possibility. They are healthier, resilient in hard times, and may even live longer.
The 3:1 ratio predicts this "upward spiral" of flourishing. The thing this, if you are not flourishing, you are languishing, or spiraling downward. As Jonathan Fields puts it, There Is No Sideways in Life.
So how to tip the scale to add more positive emotions like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, inspiration, amusement, awe and love into your life?
Two things that have made tremendous differences for my clients and me are: working on thoughts and keeping a gratitude journal. I talked about thought work in Clean Thinking and "To Get Something You Never Had..." and included resources like Byron Katie's The Work. Because I believe thought work is so valuable, yet potentially overwhelming and confusing, I am working on an e-book called Clean, Clear Thinking to unpack it for you. The process of questioning your thoughts is not about "positive thinking;" it's about altering your entrenched habits of thought.
At the end of Positivity, Dr. Fredrickson offers A New Toolkit (backed by research) to raise your ratio by decreasing negativity and increasing positivity. Tools include creating high quality social connections, practicing kindness, enjoying nature, and applying your strengths (this last one I have found to be particularly powerful in crafting careers). One suggestion, practicing loving-kindness meditation, has been a subject of much research. I am going to incorporate this into my routine and I'll report back to you.
(Incidentally, the ratio found to predict flourishing, lasting marriages is 5:1. As humans, we need more positive to make up for negative because negative interactions and emotions tend to carry more weight or "sting" than positives.)
I am reminded of a time when I would meet with my stressed, hard-working co-workers and the question that we asked each other was, "Are you surviving?" There seemed to be no chance of thriving or flourishing, only hope that we survive and get through our days.
I invite you to do more than merely just survive, but to become fully alive in your life.
I find that we often look too far ahead to find our happiness. We try to be wealthy or famous instead of trying to be loving or fascinated. By making more moments glisten with positivity, you make the choice of a lifetime: you choose the upward spiral that leads to your best future - and to our best world. -Barbara Fredrickson in Positivity
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