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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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."