Awhile back, I posted about positive-to-negative ratios in meetings, and how the ideal ratio in meetings between positive and negative comments is at least 3 to 1. Danuta McCall helpfully posted a link to the original research (my information came from an interview Barbara Fredrickson did with The Sun).
My goal for graduate school has always been to enjoy the experience. At times, that has seemed impossible–even laughable. However, Fredrickson & Losada say that even fleeting positive emotions can accrue over time, giving one a storehouse of positivity that can:
- widen the scope of attention
- facilitate flexibility and a broader range of thoughts & responses
- increase intuition & creativity
- promote adaptability to new situations
- increase immune system functioning
- promote resilience to adversity
- reduce inflammatory responses to stress
You don’t have to be happy every moment to get these benefits–brief positive emotions help you in the present but also the future. This is partly because positive emotions trigger more positive emotions.
Let’s go back to #2 for a moment: positive people are less predictable, which indicates a greater ability to come up with original thought and meaningful insight. (Incidentally, positive people have better marriages, too, precisely because they are less predictable.)
Interestingly, there is an upper limit to how positive one should be. At a positive-to-negative ratio of 11.6 to 1, flourishing decreases. Intuitively, this makes sense to me: people who are incessantly cheery often seem fake or just ignorant. Indeed, the research shows that positivity perceived as fake is basically the same as negativity. And you can imagine how hard it would be to learn in an environment where you were never criticized.
The Future Mister Doctor is my role model for positivity: he has a great capacity for gratitude, confidence in his accomplishments, and a tendency to dwell on the positive in conversations. Work colleagues of his frequently gush about all the wonderful things he’s told them about me. In contrast, my friends know about the Future Mister Doctor’s hot temper, his chronic lateness, etc. Indeed, during marriage preparation workshops we discovered that he was, in a sense, in a better relationship than I was. But more importantly for the purposes of productivity, the Future Mister Doctor works long hours, has a huge number of meetings and social interactions per day, and yet succeeds because he is what he calls “actionable”–he gets his clients results. Not only that, but he has liked every job he’s ever had.
In a way, I don’t want to praise the Future Mister Doctor too much, because I don’t think he works at being positive. For whatever reason (nature/nurture), it comes easily to him. But I do think it’s possible for the more chronically negative person to build up their stores of positivity–exercising to release endorphins, keeping a “gratitude diary” of good things in one’s life, saying small prayers of thanksgiving, wearing ultra-soft socks, etc.