Want to Flourish in Work and Life? Develop Greater Positivity!
In her book, “Positivity,” psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson draws on years of research, as well as examples from her own experience, in describing how you can build a more flourishing life.
Fredrickson defines the term “positivity” to include a broad range of thought patterns and emotions including joy, serenity, amusement, hope and inspiration.
One way to understand positivity is to distinguish it from its opposite, negativity. Fredrickson says, “We all know negativity; it looms large and is easy to spot…[U]nchecked negativity breeds health-damaging negative emotions – anger, contempt, and depression – that seep into your entire body.”
In the last decade or so, scientists have begun to better understand how vital positivity is to the quality of your life. First, of course, it feels good, and it can have a big impact on the state of your physical and mental health. Beyond that, Fredrickson says, it actually changes how your mind works.
She says, “Positivity opens us..making us more receptive and more creative.” Positive mindsets lead to open minds, allowing us to learn and explore and “to build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.”
Fredrickson and her colleagues developed a “positivity ratio” that has been shown to predict high productivity not only with individuals but also with teams. That ratio compares the frequency of positive moments to the frequency of negative moments. The data suggest that to flourish we need a positivity ratio of 3 to 1. When negativity is experienced more than one third of the time, people became rigid and less creative, and may fall into downward spirals with intensifying waves of negative feelings.
You can profoundly change your life by becoming more positive. While your genes help shape your ratio, Fredrickson says that there is much you can do to increase positivity:
• Reduce gratuitous negativity. While some negative emotions are appropriate and useful, dwelling on negative thoughts or indulging in inappropriate comments is neither healthy nor helpful. For example, what’s the point of complaining to the checkout clerk when you have to wait in line at the grocery store? It’s probably useless and possibly destructive to berate yourself or others when things don’t go the way you wish.
• Dispute negative thoughts. Repetitive patterns of negative thinking breed negative emotions and can make the bad times worse. For example, you can trigger a downward spiral by indulging in overly negative self-talk, saying things to yourself like, “I’ll never finish in time” or “this is a disaster.” You can train yourself to notice your negative thoughts and then take away their power by refocusing on the actual facts.
• Distract yourself. Sometimes when you can’t let go of negative thoughts the best thing to do is to find a healthy distraction. Do something to take your mind off your troubles, like getting some exercise, visiting with a friend or trying a meditation technique.
• Savor goodness. You can develop the habit of getting the most out of positive moments. Take the time to examine every aspect of a good development or situation. Talk about your good fortune with a friend and find ways to celebrate.
• Count your blessings. Gratitude can play a powerful role in shifting you to a more positive place. Scientists have documented that you can improve your level of health and happiness by routinely listing aspects of your life for which you are grateful.
• Engage in kindness. Watch for opportunities to treat others with kindness, and keep a list of your kind actions.