What you need to know about Positivity?
Key ideas from the book “Positivity” by Barbara Fredrickson, PhD.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson is a key figure in the happiness world. She is a scientist who has made influential discoveries about the role of positive emotion in our lives.
What is Positivity? Fredrickson uses the word positivity to encompass a range of positive emotions – joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love which can enhance our lives.
She explains that there are six vital facts about positivity which are important to keep in mind when people question the focus on positive emotion.
- It feels good (no argument there!)
- It actually changes how your mind works – not just the contents of your thoughts, but it changes the scope or boundaries of your mind widening the span of possibilities. She shows this through experiments in her lab.
- It transforms your future. Although good feelings are fleeting, over time these good feelings (positivity) build up the best in you. As they accrue, they build up your resources for the future– physically, mentally, socially, and psychologically.
- It puts the brakes on negativity. Negativity can spike your blood pressure, positivity can calm it. Fredrickson says positivity is the secret to becoming resilient.
- Positivity obeys a tipping point i.e., the effects are non-linear – she makes the point that this is not science as usualwith a single arrow from cause to effect. A tipping point happens where a small change in one thing makes big differences in the other.
- You can increase it.
Why we have positive emotion Psychologists have long understood why we have “negative” emotions – they were valuable because they signaled a threat to survival in some way. You need fear if a bear is coming towards you, so you can narrow your mindset and mobilize resources to survive (very useful in the short term).
Positive emotions have been shown to broaden our mindsets over longer time scales, opening us to what is possible. Over time broader mindsets build resources.
Why are we cautious or cynical about positivity? We tend to believe happiness is a matter of luck or circumstance, and that feeling good is not something to have as a serious goal.
Psychological science now tells us that good feelings cultivated through natural and ordinary means (not shortcuts like shopping, gambling, drinking, drug taking etc) are the active ingredients needed to produce spiral toward flourishing.
But wait… As Fredrickson says, “positivity is fragile – whether you experience positivity or not depends vitally on how you think.”
We all know that we can’t will ourselves to feel a positive emotion. But the good news is that we have much more of a clue than we used to about what the behaviours and thoughts are that will decrease negativity and increase positivity.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is one way of dealing with negative thoughts. Mindfulness is another, which helps with the problem of over-thinking and then spiraling downwards towards depression.
Developing skills to cope keeps problems at bay, and positive psychology research gives ways to keep ourselves flourishing.