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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