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What is Positivity?

by Beth on February 2nd, 2010

I think before I go any further I should define what I mean by positivity.  Positivity is the frequent experience of pleasant emotions.  Some of the most common are: joy, hope, gratitude, interest, serenity, pride, amusement, love, inspiration, and awe.

3-to-1 ratio

The concept of positivity is by no means a Pollyannaish ideal where you don’t experience negative emotions.  Obviously, we can’t avoid negativity in our lives; bad things do happen.  What matters is the ratio of positive to negative emotions over time.  We just have to make sure that we have more than enough positive experiences to counterbalance the negative ones.  Research in positivity indicates that the benefits of positivity occur when our ratio of positive-to-negative emotions is at least 3-to-1.


Negativity bias

Experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones is important because we have a negativity bias.  Negative emotions feel more intense than positive emotions.   We pay more attention to negative stories.  That’s why negative news sells!  People also remember negative events more readily, typically recalling four negative memories for every positive one.

This negativity bias ensures that we give attention and effort to minimizing threats to our survival.  It could be potentially dangerous to ignore a honking horn.  When someone is sick they need attention.  At work we focus on performance gaps because they might put our business at risk.

Intentionally positive

This means that we need to make a concerted effort to increase positivity in our lives in order to counteract the negativity.  Fortunately, what matters is the ratio of positive to negative emotions over time, not the intensity of those emotions.  Small acts of kindness or a few extra positive thoughts throughout the day can increase your positivity ratio and move you past the 3-to-1 tipping point.

How many positive emotions have you experienced in the last 24 hours?  What were they?  Were there enough to make up for the negative ones?   Think of something you could do right now that would make you smile.  Maybe just take a minute to count your blessings.

From → Mindset, Well-being

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