The Science and Art of Positive Psychology – Part Four

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When I was a little girl, I was very fond of a bubble-gum called “Love is”. Every package contained a drawing and an example of an act associated with love- for instance “ love is squeezing lemon in his tea”. I found these little drawings very appealing, however at that point couldn`t quite appreciate the link to love.

Later I found out that this understanding is something that evolves in a course of a lifetime. This is what the fourth part of the “Positive Psychology” course focuses on.

Following the introduction to positive emotions and the benefits from that experiencing them bring, the focus shifts to perhaps the most important one– Love.

…So what IS love?

Some common perceptions of love are:

  • That it is exclusive
  • Without finding it we are incomplete
  • It is a sort of an achievement
  • It involves serious commitment.

Our existing views inarguably serve us well, but Love is such a profound emotion that it deserves to also be looked at through a different lens – the one of Positive Psychology.

Positive Psychology looks at Love as a positive emotion that we mostly co-experience in the company of others. It has to do with investing in the well-being of another person without anything at stake. It is also the feeling that “you get me” and “I get you”.

The scientific definition of Love reads: “interpersonally situated experience marked by momentary increases in shared positive emotions, behavioral synchronicity and mutual care.” The subsequent “products” of love are improved rapport with the person, forming social bonds and commitment.

According to emotional science and more specifically Positive Psychology love blossoms every time when two people connect over a shared positive emotion.  This is closely linked to the concept of “Positivity resonance” which effectively is a “co-experience” of positive emotions; a micro moment of connection when a positive emotion unfolds for both of you, between and amongst you at the same time.

Similar to its siblings from the positive emotion family, love also has a “broaden and build component” -it has a momentary effect based on which we build and expand.

Now that we cover the positivity psychology view of love let`s think about the practical insights:

1) The experience of love is dynamic and not static, and it is in our hands to maintain it.

2)  By paying more attention to the little positive emotions that we co- experience and that we sometimes trivialize we can improve the quality of our relationships, but also our well-being.

4) Love is not a relationship status – it is a verb, and an action that requires attention. Your attention.

I`ll end here with a quote by  Ursula Le Guin:

” Love doesn`t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new”

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The Science and Art of Positive Psychology- Part Three


The previous posts from this series ( which can be found here and here) revealed that pursuing happiness is essential for living a fulfilled and healthy life.

Something to be mindful of is that sometimes our pursuit of happiness could actually lead us in the wrong direction. This can happen when:

  • In our efforts to stay “happy” we try to fully eliminate negativity which is not a feasible strategy as negativity is “embedded” in us as a natural way of protection against danger.
  • We tend to engage in non-meaningful activities to keep ourselves cheered up or distracted (like my tendency to continuously watch multiple episodes of my favorite show until I realize that hours have passed), which in hindsight is more of a temporary “quick fix” rather than a sustainable way to attain happiness.

The key is not to eliminate negativity or distract ourselves from it, but to keep our ratio of positive to negative emotions within healthy limits. Positive psychology tells us that the “optimal” ratio is 3 to 1 and this is the ratio above which the people are found to be “flourishing” (you can read more about the ratio and how to calculate it here). The higher the ratio, the greater the associated growth and resilience.

When we start calculating  our positivity ratios most of us will find them to be lower than what we would like them to be (which also happened to be my case!) – the reason might be that our negative experiences tend to be “louder” and more -prominent than positive ones which are more subtle; thus the negative ones are more easily remembered and higher weighted. For example, which situation do you think will stay with you more – a friend who said something nice and cheered you up, or the same friend making a nasty comment that made you feel miserable?

Therefore, calculating your baseline ratio based on the result for only one day is not the best strategy. To get really meaningful insights try to do the calculation every day for at least a week and afterwards calculate the average.

Research shows that we don`t really need huge positive events to tip our positivity ratios- mild positive experiences that occur in a sustainable way matter the most. One great aspect of the positivity ratio calculation is that it will very likely trigger some thinking around all these small positive emotions that we tend to overlook during the day. This way we`ll learn to discover the value of the small positive things around us (which actually matter a big deal) and to develop an opened readiness to capitalize on them and increase their number. For instance, you might discover that small things such as going for walks uplift you, but you never thought of it. As a next step, you can incorporate it in your daily routine, or perhaps go for a walk when you need a positive influx.

And once again- trying to fully eliminate negativity is not a feasible strategy:

  •  It is unnatural as negativity is embedded in our nature
  •  Research shows that exclusively positive people tend to lose their creativity and that successful entrepreneurs need a “pain point” that triggers them to take decisive action.
  •  A positivity ratio that induces flourishing requires some amount of negativity- that is why the optimal positivity ratio is 3 to 1 and not 3 to 0.

Being able to honestly recognize negativity therefore allows us to be grounded in reality and to be more creative.

So go ahead- start calculating your positivity ratio and let me know how you experienced this by leaving a comment below 😉


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The Science and Art of Positive Psychology- Part Two

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In the first session of these series we found out that:

  • Negative emotions are genetically embedded as part of our survival instincts and mechanisms.
  • Positive emotions are by nature subtle and fleeting; however they are important for us to develop and flourish.

It is important to recognize these facts and rather than trying to eliminate negativity working on accepting it, as well as recognizing the power of positive emotions despite their transcendence. The winning strategy will then be to increase their quantity so they can eventually outnumber their negative siblings.

Research shows that below a certain ratio of positive to negative emotions people start feeling burdened and lifeless, become rigid, predictable and lose their creativity. The ratio is one to three, which means that for every negative emotion that we experience we need three positive ones to balance it off.  You can calculate your positivity ratio at

Keeping our positivity rations high has numerous benefits:

  • It is good for our health- over the last decades researchers have found stunning correlations between expressing positive emotions and living longer.
  • Positive emotions can increase our curiosity, playfulness and openness to others, which would help us broaden our mindset and outlook and build our resources – this is the so called “broaden and build” effect.
  • Positive emotions can help us improve our satisfaction with life. Positive psychology tells us that in order to improve our happiness levels, we should be focusing on how we feel day-to-day and not on how to become happy with life in general. When we focus on day to day feelings we work on building our resources, growing and improving ourselves which eventually leads to higher satisfaction with life. Rather than overthinking and trying to design a “happiness strategy” we should try to live in the moment and to get the best out of it in terms of positive emotions. This will naturally result in greater meaning and purpose in life.

So go ahead- measure your positivity ratio and keep in mind that three to one is just the tipping point and it is best if your balance well above this. Tracking our emotions throughout the day is also an effective way to become more mindful of our sources of positive and negative emotions, compare reality to where we want to be and think about ways to increase our positive experiences.

Something to keep in mind is that in order to get a good idea of your positivity ratio over time this exercise needs to be done for a longer period of time rather than once off. When I started I scored myself every day in the course of a week to get a good understanding of how the ratio differed from day to day and form a “baseline” for myself. From then onwards, I`ve been doing it a few times a week, comparing against the baseline and identifying ways to improve it.

For more suggestions on how to increase the positive emotions that you experience and boost your positivity ratios – have a look at the first session of the series.

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The Science and Art of Positive Psychology- Part One


The concept of positive psychology is something extremely close to my heart. It started after I had my first glimpses of  mindfulness and meditation when I got to know more about Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change based on our conscious and unconscious thoughts, behaviors and the environment. Neuroplasticity tells us that we can consciously train our brains similarly to how we train our bodies. Mindfulness, Meditation and Positive psychology are some of the “tools” to do this training.

I was already practicing the first two and keen to know more. The opportunity to find out more about Positive Psychology came through a six module online course in Coursera that has been developed and thought by Dr. Barbara Frederickson.

One of the best ways to consolidate knowledge is to share it and the opportunity to have even the smallest positive influence on your lives would bring me immense joy, so I will be sharing interesting insights and my reflections from the different modules of the course.

Let`s start with the basics. Have you thought about the positive emotions in your life? Can you maybe name a few? When I tried to come up with a list it struck me that it is very difficult to come up with more examples beyond joy and happiness.

So here there are, a list of the ten main positive emotions and their characteristics:

Emotion Appraisal Tendency Outcome
Joy Safe, familiar, progress Play, learn new things Acquire skills
Gratitude Receive altruistic gift Give creatively Nurture bonds/skills for loving
Interest Safe, but also novel and mysterious environment Explore, be inventive Energy, gain knowledge
Serenity Safe, certain, low effort Savor and integrate Modify self
Hope Negative situations where you yearn for the better Be inventive Increased resilience
Pride Socially valued achievement Dreaming Further achievement
Amusement Non serious social incongruity Share laughter Build friendship
Inspiration Witness human excellence Aspire to excellence Gain skills and morality
Awe Overwhelmed by greatness Accommodate the new Self as part of a larger whole
Love Positive emotion in connection with somebody Play, explore, dream Build trust, bonds, communication

Something important to realize is that positive emotions are much more powerful than what we think. They do not only improve the overall quality of our lives, but enable us to be curious, creative, connected, to develop ourselves and eventually reach our fullest potential. And very importantly- they can be consciously evoked. 

Some of the very interesting insights that are got from the course are:

  • Positive emotions are far more subtle than their negative siblings (such as sadness, anger, misery) that often “scream” at you. This has developed evolutionary, as we need our negative emotions in order to survive- without them we won`t know what’s dangerous and what is not. 
  • Positive emotions are also more fleeting than the negative ones and have a tendency to quickly come and go, which might pose challenges in recognizing them ad staying with them.
  • Despite the fact that they seem less powerful than negative emotions, positive emotions have an important quality called dynamic cyclic capability- where our current emotions determine the ones that follow. In that context the little engines of positivity are the spirals between emotions where one good emotion leads to another one which leads to yet another one and we are eventually put into a sort of “positivity loop”.
  • Positive emotions have the ability to help us recover from negative experiences a lot quicker compared to a situation when we are in a neutral state. The important practical implication of this is that even when we are taken over by negativity we can consciously try to evoke positive emotions and break the negative pattern!

And how can we actually evoke positive emotions?  The course gives us two ideas how to get there:

  • Be mindful and develop the ability to recognize the positive emotions when they occur. When you start doing that you will soon realize that you often take for granted good things that happen to you and you are like the fish who doesn’t see the water; for instance let`s take the simplest example – without air we wouldn`t be able to live no more than a minute or two, but how often do we actually acknowledge this? And there are so many more examples..
  • Of course there are also times when things just go out of hand and it is just so difficult to see the light. A second way to practice positivity is to remember things that make/made us feel grateful, peaceful, loved, inspired, etc. Ideas how to do this are:
  • Every day write down three things which happened during the day and which you are grateful for,
  • Write down one positive thing that happened to you and put the paper in a jar every day. You could open those at the end of the month- have a monthly “happy hour” 😉

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