The Positivity Ratio – Formula for Happiness

In our previous look at the science of positive emotions, we looked at the intriguing concept of positivity and identified ten positive emotions that, when incorporated regularly into your life, are key to a happy, fulfilled and meaningful life. And we also explored the work of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity, who is one of the most well respected and influential positive psychology researchers in the world today.

The word ‘positivity’ is not just a coined term for book marketing purposes, but a real word that has been in use in the English language since the middle of the 17th century.  Merriam-Webster defines it as: 1) the quality or state of being positive or 2) something that is positive. Sounds simple, right?

The Positivity Ratio

The concept of being positive is indeed simple, but when you go deeper, as Dr. Fredrickson has done, the results and impact on your life can be profound. Her research* shows not only how to incorporate positive emotions into your own life; it also looks at the ideal amount of positivity you need that will make the difference between just getting by in life and really flourishing. This ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions is known as the positivity ratio and Dr. Frederickson recommends aiming for a ratio of 3:1. This means that for every negative emotion you experience, try to counteract the effect of these by experiencing three positive emotions. Of course, your ratio of positive emotions to negative ones will shift from day to day. A full 80% of Americans fall far short of the ideal 3:1 positivity ratio that predicts flourishing.

Ten Keys to Happiness

Knowing what your positivity ratio is important  The next step is seeing what you can do to increase it. This ‘controlling’ of your emotional experience may seem a little strange at first.  Most of us don’t usually go out of our way to consciously and deliberately have a specific emotional experience. Bear in mind, also, that this is not asking you to deny or try to suppress your negative emotions, but simply to counter them with positive ones.  This simple practice can make a big difference in your life over time.

Let’s take a look at those ten key emotions discussed previously.  If you need to review them, just go over to my prior article here.

One:     Joy

Two:     Gratitude

Three:  Serenity

Four:    Interest

Five:     Hope

Six:       Pride

Seven:  Amusement

Eight:    Inspiration

Nine:     Awe

Ten:       Love

Even though ‘love’ is listed as number ten, it’s the emotion we humans most frequently experience. Each of the others, from one through nine, is listed in the order of frequency of experience. There are two parts to increasing your positivity ratio. The first thing to do is simply to begin to recognize when you are experiencing these feelings. Positive moments can be fleeting, so you’ll need to tune in to your own experience. Once you become conscious you are experiencing one of these emotions, take a few moments to appreciate it and savor the experience. This doesn’t have to take a long time or be complicated at all. Keep it simple.  You’ll get better at this over time.

The second part to increasing your positivity ratio is that when you do experience one of these positive emotions, ask yourself these questions: When was the last time I felt this feeling? Where was I at the time? What was I doing?  Start to explore for yourself the question: What else gives me this feeling? The answer to this last question can really open up a whole new world of positivity for you.

Some people find it helpful to keep a positivity journal to write down reflections.  It’s interesting and fun to read about your journey over time and adds a real richness to the experience.  And feel free to keep me posted about your journey in the comments below!

*If you happen to do some Googling on the positivity ratio, you may see some sites claiming the research on the positivity ratio has been discredited and is no longer applicable. Dr. Frederickson has addressed criticisms of her work here and there is ample evidence that a higher positivity ratio predicts a better outcome than a lower one.

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