Did you know that there’s a growing field of science known as “Positive Psychology”? Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism, put this area of psychology on the map during the late 1990s when he served as president of the American Psychological Association, but it has its roots in the work of Dr. Abraham Maslow and other well-known social scientists from the 20th century.
Instead of merely focusing on “how can we relieve suffering?” positive psychologists are focusing on “how can we become happier?” According to Wikipedia, positive psychology is defined as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life."
The Positivity Ratio: A Balanced, Realistic Approach
“How much positive emotion do we need to flourish?” is a question posed by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and author of the book Positivity. She says it can be answered by what she calls the “Positivity Ratio.” Research has shown that the ratio between the amount of positive and negative emotions you have will determine whether you’re languishing or flourishing. The tipping point for flourishing starts at 3 to 1, which means you must experience three or more heartfelt positive emotions for every one heart-wrenching negative emotion that you endure.
Dr. Fredrickson says that 2 to 1 is the typical daily ratio that most of us experience, adding that those with depression and other emotional disorders fall into 1 to 1 and lower ratios. However, she points out that the ideal ratio is not 3 to 0 because there must be a balance. And she warns against trying to eliminate all negative emotions. Rather than make your motto “Be Positive,” remember that the key to achieving this ratio is that your positive emotions must be heartfelt and sincere. Otherwise, they are not effective and will backfire instead.
Watch Dr. Fredrickson explain the Postivity Ratio in this video.
3 Things You Can Do Today To Increase Your Happiness
Dr. Seligman and his colleagues conducted a study in which they tested six different happiness "interventions." They concluded that the following three were the most effective for lasting happiness.
1. Using signature strengths in a new way. Subjects were asked to take an inventory of character strengths at an online site and received individualized feedback about their top five "signature" strengths. Then every day for one week, they used one of these top strengths in a new and different way. Result: increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months.
2. Three good things in life. For one week, participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and they had to also write down a causal explanation for each good thing. Result: increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months.
3. Gratitude visit. During the course of a week, participants wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked. Result: caused large positive changes for one month.
Read their full report at http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/articleseligman.pdf.
Check out a similar experiment for expressing gratitude in this video by Soul Pancake.
Near the end of their report, Dr. Seligman and his team of researchers pose an interesting question: What would happen if people used a combination of or even all 3 of these happiness interventions? How much more lasting happiness might be achieved?
Why not test this yourself? The good news is that all 3 of these things are all easy to do, and you can start as soon as today to increase your happiness. You can even use Dr. Fredrickson's website, http://www.positivityratio.com, to take the Positivity Ratio Test and measure your happiness levels from day to day.
Angela Loëb is an author, speaker and self-development consultant who loves to study, teach, and write about mind mastery, spirituality, career, and life purpose. More at http://about.me/angelarloeb