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Positivity is a wise choice
on 8 May 2009
Barbara Frederickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and a pioneer of positive psychology, specializes in research on positive emotions and human flourishing. She is best-known for her so-called broaden-and build theory of positive emotions.
This book describes in an accessible and captivating way what the research by her and her colleagues has taught her about what positivity is and what is does. In her explanation of what positivity is, she mentions ten forms of positivity: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. As to what positivity does, maybe it is best to start with six facts she mentions about positivity: 1) positivity feels good, 2) positivity changes how your mind works, 3) positivity transforms your future, 4) positivity puts the brakes on negativity, 5) positivity obeys a tipping point, 6) you can increase your positivity. A briefer way of describing what positivity amounts to is that it opens your mind and helps you get on a positive trajectory, an upward spiral. In other words: it makes you flourish. Flourishing is more than being happy. In Barbara Frederickson's words: "Flourishing goes beyond happiness, or satisfaction with life. True, people who flourish are happy. But that's not the half of it. Beyond feeling good, they're also doing good -adding value to the world. People who flourish are highly engaged with their families, work, and communities."
But that is not the whole story. The effects of positivity are not simple and linear. Rather, they are subtle and non-linear. Human flourishing works like a nonlinear dynamic system. In nonlinear systems, there are one or more tipping points at which the properties of the system can suddenly change dramatically. An example of such a non-linear system with a tipping point is how ice melts at zero degrees Celsius. Consultant and researcher Marcial Losada has helped Barbara Frederickson uncover a tipping point in the positivity ratio. The positivity ratio is the ratio of people's experiences of positive to negative emotions. Frederickson's and Losada's research show that there is a tipping point above which flourishing starts and below which it doesn't. This positivity ratio tipping point is 3-1. When there are three times or more as many positive experiences than negative ones, flourishing will start with all of its beneficial consequences. There also turns out to be a second tipping point, by the way, of 11-1, which is the upper bound of flourishing. Above this upper bound it seems that there is too much positivity. In other words, there will always remain a useful role for some negativity. Frederickson has found that most people have more positive than negative experiences but are below the 3-1 tipping point. Fortunately, there are many known ways to raise your positivity (many of them are described in the book) so that flourishing is attainable for anyone.
I can hardly say how impressed I am with this book. This book presents the best that positive psychology has to offer. The writing is very clear and pleasant. At the same time, everything that is being written is linked to scientific findings (which are mentioned explicitly). My suggestion is: do yourself a favor and buy yourself this book.