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the emotional effect: how to deal with others' negativity

make the 3-to-1 ratio of positivity work for you

What is positivity? Lately I've been thinking about this a lot lately because, due to my job situation, I haven't been very happy. I haven't been happy... but I've still be positive. So what does it mean to be positive? For the past week or so I've been reading Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, which I've been meaning to read for awhile. So many have recommended that I read it, but it took me a long time to actually buy the book and start reading. And from the first page in, I've been saying to myself, "Why did it take me so long to read this???" The book is fascinating, filled with real scientific research about positivity but put together in a way that's not dull and dragging. Before cracking open the cover of this book, I often thought that positivity was pretty simple. It was just a generally good attitude that seemed to, in my experience, make everything better. But positivity, I'm certainly discovering, is a lot more -- so much more! -- than that. The author responds to her own question, "And what is positivity anyway?" with this statement: 

"Let's start with what it isn't. Positivity doesn't mean we should follow the axioms 'Grin and bear it' or 'Don't worry, be happy.' Those are simply superficial wishes. Positivity runs deeper. It consists of the whole range of positive emotions -- from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude, and then some The term is purposely broad. It includes positive meanings and optimistic attitudes that trigger positive emotions as well as the open minds, tender hearts, relaxed limbs, and soft faces they usher in. It even includes the long-term impact that positive emotions have on your character, relationships, communities, and environment." 

When I read that, it really hit home that positivity is so much more than it seems. It's not just that "Be happy!" attitude (one that I haven't mastered and doubt I ever will); it's more than that and it's more important than that. As Fredrickson writes, "Positivity doesn't just change the corners of your mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibilities that you see." If I were to have read that even one year ago I would have scoffed and thought, "Bullshit. Positivity is just something people who don't think much about life possess. Anyone who's really thinking knows there's nothing to be positive about." But now... Now I know first hand that these words are true. Having a more positive attitude and incorporating more positivity into my life has changed the scope of my mind. The possibilities of my life have changed tremendously since I decided to seek out positivity. 

One thing I've struggled with is the notion that I cannot be positive all the time. It's pretty much impossible to always have a positive attitude, but I've often wondered, "How much positivity is enough? How much do I need to have to generally be a positive person?" According to Fredrickson's research, we should "aim for a positivity ratio of at least 3 to 1. This means that for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you experience at least at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you." Reading this I breathed a sigh of relief. I don't have to be positive all the time and I don't have to deny negative emotions (which I've always know would be a bad, bad idea). 

As Fredrickson notes, "The beauty of the 3-to-1 positivity ratio is that it's large enough to encompass the full range of human emotions. There's no emotion that needs to be forever shunned or repressed." I've often grappled with how one can be a positive person and still experience negative emotions and reading about Fredrickson's 3-to-1 ratio has really helped me to realize that just because you want to be positive doesn't meant that you're not going have bad times or experience negative emotions. In fact, as Fredrickson suggests, you need those emotions. You need to have a balance. A 3-to-1 balance, apparently. 

At this point in the post, I'm going to have to highly recommend that you read the book if you're at all interested in this subject. Many people recommended it to me and I kept put it off for some reason and I'm sorry that I did because I was missing out. If positivity is something that interests you, definitely check the book out to gain a full understanding of what the 3-to-1 ratio really means. In the rest of the post I'm going to focus on how I've tried to make the 3-to-1 ratio work for me and how these tips might work for you as well. These suggestions aren't in the book and I have no idea if Fredrickson would agree with them or not, but I know that they've worked for me so maybe they can have a positive impact on you too. 


4 Ways to Make the 3-to-1 Positivity Ratio Work for You


  1. Take baby steps. Yeah, it sounds silly (and may even feel silly), but I've found that doing something positive, like smiling, makes a huge difference.  When I remember to take a few seconds to do a small, positive thing, like really smile at someone, it works. Though it seems like a tiny thing, little acts like this can make a big difference when it comes to being positive. 

  2. Accept the negative. It's hard when you're focused on positivity all of the time (as I try to be) to address the things that are negative. It seems sometimes like a better idea to ignore them to say, "Oh, I'll deal with those another time," but it's really never a good idea to do that. If you're feeling a negative emotion, go ahead and fully experience it. It will actually make you better at being more positive! 

  3. Listen and learn. Take a moment to listen to those around you. Are they looking for the good or dwelling on the bad? You can learn a lot from the people around you -- both from the good and the bad traits they possess. Listen to what others are saying and how they are reacting to learn how you would like to react. Take the good thoughts and leave the bad. 

  4. Do your research. If you want to make the positivity ratio work for you, look into it. Read the book if you can or check it out online and gather more information. There's even a test you can take to see what your ratio is right now. The more work you put into understanding yourself and your emotions, the more likely you'll be to find that awesome 3-to-1 balance. 

There are many, many ways to seek a 3-to-1 positivity ratio in your life but a lot of them will depend on you. Your personality, your lifestyle, your mindset -- all of these things can affect your ratio and some of them can even change quite frequently. I've provided the four things that really help me to be more positive. These four things might work for you, they might not. Everyone is different when it comes to understanding their personal positivity ratio so it's important to give it some serious thought if you're working towards this as a goal in your life. I'll leave you with one of the most powerful passages I read in Fredrickson's book because it is the one that, after a year of seeking positivity, I know for sure is true. Silly as it might sound, the possibility for positivity really does lie within you...  

"... the potential for life-draining negativity lies within you, just as does the potential for life-giving positivity. You have more say than you think about which you feel and when. The treasure for your own positivity is waiting." 


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Dani, i'm so looking forward to reading this book - just took The Test and am ready to learn more. as always, THANKS for the nudge toward the +!

Hi Dani,
I found myself having some moments this weekend, where positivity wasn't "at it's best". And they were just that moments, and they had me thinking - why can't I just find some positive in this moment. So, reading here today - this is good. There is a reassurance that it's okay to have moments that aren't all "pie in the sky". Really, this is a feel good post for me today - thank you!!

Lisa - You should definitely check out the book. I tried to highlight some of the key points in this post, but you really need to read the whole thing to understand the awesomeness of it. Thanks for commenting!

Lance - I'm glad this post was good for you today! Like you did this weekend, I have moments where I just cannot seem to be positive and it's hard to deal with sometimes. Reading this book and the science behind it has made me realize that I don't have to be positive ALL the time.

Thanks for the great post today, Dani!
I think I have always been a half full kind of girl, but that doesn't mean I am always positive. Breathing a sigh of relief with you!
I end every post, email, and correspondence with the words "Enjoy the day!" A few years ago I was in a foul mood and was greeted by an overly perky clerk who told me to "Have a great day!" What she didn't know was that it was an awful day and that just grated on my last nerve. I found a quote that I reference often, "Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day." I encourage people to find the 'something good' in their day and to enjoy it. It can be the worst possible of all days, but there is always something good. That one small shift has made all the difference to me. I used to think that I would have to search high and low for that something I find that they find me!
Thank you for sharing your inspiration and making me think! Oh...and... Enjoy the day! Erin

You are spot on about the smile. It's like what Gretchen says, do how you want to feel.

I'm loving this concept of the 3-1 ratio! I've often found myself getting angry at myself for being negative, which undoubtedly starts a vicious cycle of feeling more negative, and before you know it, I don't even want to feel positive anymore! By allowing myself to feel negative, I can truly enjoy the positive moments :)

thanks for this post!

Erin - Thank YOU for your great comment. :) You make a great point about how just because you look at life with a glass-half-full attitude, you're not necessarily positive all the time. I've used the quote you mentioned and I think it's a great one. Not every day is great, but there is definitely something great in every day and it's important to look for those things, while not ignoring negative feelings we may have. Have a great day!

Meream - Exactly! If we act the way we want to feel, as Gretchen suggests, we usually find that we're a lot happier. Fake it till you make it!

Eran - I love it too and I'm glad you can relate. I used to get angry at myself when I'm not positive because I'm supposed to be positive, being the author of Positively Present and all, but now I realize that being positive doesn't mean being happy all the time or ignoring negative emotions. As Fredrickson suggests, I really believe that being positive is more about being positive more often than you are negative, which isn't as hard as it would seem with the right attitude. So glad you liked this one!

I think accepting good and bad feelings is just part of who I am. As long as I am aware, I can do something about being stuck in the bad stuff. And use the tools of recovery to move out of the funk.

Absolutely! You cannot be happy all the time, never letting life get to you! This is not realistic. What is realistic is positive thinking in ways that turn negative situations into positive ones.

Sounds like a pretty interesting book. I believe that one of the major things is accepting the negatives and trading them for the positives.
Great post

Hey Dani!
Sounds like an interesting book to read! I still get negative thoughts some times like everyone but when I get them I try to rationalize why I'm being negative and that I should rather be positive instead. It's not always as easy, especially when I'm angry :)

Syd - That's a great point about how, if you're aware, you can do something about being stuck in the bad stuff. Bad stuff is going to happen and that's okay. It's important to recognize it and use what you can to move forward to the good stuff.

Steve - Definitely not! Happiness is great but it's not a constant state. As you said, the realistic thing is to use positive thinking to make the most of negative situations!

Josten - It's definitely one of the best books I've read about positivity. Acceptance is very important. You can't always be positive and it's important to accept that fact and blend life's positives in with the negatives.

Diggy - Hi! It's a great book -- you should check it out! As you brought up in your comment, we have a choice about whether we are positive or negative. It's not always easy to choose positive (and sometimes it's not even possible if something is really, really bad), but it's still an option. Keeping that in mind has really helped me to see the good in some pretty bad situations.

This is wonderful, Dani. I think it's so important to understand that you can't eliminate the negative from life entirely. Too many people try, and when they fail, they feel even worse about themselves. Bad things will happen. Bad days are going to come around. To try and live with 100% positivity is impossible, so it's good to see a more "realistic" way of looking at the whole positive person/negative person idea.

Jay - Thanks! It's definitely important to realize that negativity in all forms cannot be eliminated. When I went into this venture of living a more positive life, I sort of had the naive belief that I could find a way to always be happy, but that's just not realistic. There will always be ups and downs in life, and as long as I can work towards a 3:1 ratio, I'll be happy with that!

Fantastic post as usual Dani! I will try to get my hands on the book. I agree with what you said that you don't need to be 100% happy all the time to be positive.

In fact positivity for me means not struggling hard to resist a 'negative' situation. Just let it be and accept it. Let it flow. This very often changes your orientation and perspective and the negative situation is suddenly seen as not so negative or its positive points start becoming visible. This for me is the truly positive attitude which I hope to keep on learning.

Thanks again for the great post.

Soul Hiker - Definitely check out the book if you have a chance. It's a great one! I like what you say about positivity being about not struggling against a negative situation. Living a positive life really does mean accepting what is -- whether it be good OR bad. Perspective is really important and if you're able to keep things in perspective, you'll be likely to have a more positive attitude. Thanks for the comment!

Hi Dani, I read and reviewed Barbara's book "Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive" and I absolutely loved it. I think I gave it five stars. They've changed the name in the paper version and I almost thought it was new book and bought it. They aren't linked at Amazon but the exact same number of pages make me think it is the same. I'm glad you finally read it. In a blatant act of self-promotion, here is my review

Stephen - Maybe you were one of the people who suggested I read it awhile back? Or I read your review? I'm going to have to check it out. It was actually that orange cover that grabbed my attention. I love, love, love orange and when I saw the new cover (I'd assumed it was the same book), I just had to buy it. Off to check out your review now...

Hi Dani,

It seems we are all chasing positivity and what I see is that the very chase makes people feel inadequate and afraid of what judge is negativity. In my experience, it has been most effective to simply be, and allow all inner experience, without judging them positive or negative, and in this way we can realize it is rather easy to release anguished beliefs and fear, and then what is left is positivity. Of course, this may feel like it's not easy to do, because our ingrained beliefs keep nudging us, telling us we must work hard towards happiness and positivity.

I don't think positivity can or need be cultivated--it is simply here when we can release what is false in us.

Thanks for once again considering this important question with openness and balance.

I hope you are well!


"It widens the span of possibilities that you see"

I like that alot!

Definitely gotta check this book out !

Kaushik - What a great point! It's the very chase of positivity that makes people feel inadequate... That really is true. Instead of chasing good or bad, we need to just BE. It's not easy, as you said, but it really is the only way to live a life at peace with yourself and the world. Great comment. Thank you!

Rocky - It really does do that. The more positive I've become, the more possibilities I've been exposed to. It's amazing actually to see it happen in real life and not just read about it in the pages of a book (though I would highly recommend checking the book out too!).

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