Increasing Your Positivity Ratio Without The Need For Optimism

January 28, 2013

dew on a delicate mushroom

Why I Don’t Like Optimism

I am not an optimist.  In fact I am very wary of optimism.  To me, optimism means that one only registers facts that work in their favor and dismisses facts that are perceived as negative or unwanted.  Imagine if Google maps had two street views:  one showing Truth Traffic and the other showing Optimistic Traffic.  The optimistic view might look great on your screen – clear streets all through Chicago during rush hour!  You’ll only need twenty minutes to get from here to there!  Exciting to think about how easy your commute will be.  But that false information will only make you more frustrated when you actually get downtown and are stuck in the real time hour and a half commute through the gridlock.  Staying balanced and finding well-being requires that we be fully aware of the reality that is going on around us (the good, the bad, and the ugly) rather than selecting only what we want to see as true.  I prefer to use truth as my guide, even when the truth is painful.

Why I Like Positive Emotions

I start a post about positive emotions with this message to be clear in my intent with my next statement.  We need positive emotions in our lives to find well-being.  And if we don’t have enough events in our days that are making us feel positive emotions, we need to create them.   Now I’m not saying to ignore the negative emotions.  A person who ignores their negative emotions is like a ship without a rudder.  But we need to be sure we are open to experiencing a wide range of emotions throughout our days.  Barbara Fredrickson used cutting edge statistical techniques to determine that a person is much more likely to lead a flourishing, satisfactory life if they experience positive emotions in about a 3:1 ratio with negative emotions.

Positive emotions are amazing.  They literally change us at a biological level.  We are quicker to return to baseline blood pressure, our visual attention shifts, and we are even less likely to catch a cold.  Dr. Fredrickson also explains that during a positive emotion we experience:

  1. “A widening of awareness”
  2. We are better able to “see past difference and to see towards oneness”
  3. We “see larger forms of interconnection”

How To Increase Your Positive Emotions

So if you aren’t meeting that ratio you need to do something about it.  So here is the trick.  These positive emotions can’t be:

  1. At the expense of ignore the truth if we don’t like it
  2. At the expense of comparing ourselves to others and feeling superior
  3. Faked

These positive emotions can be:

  1. Small
  2. Quiet
  3. Found even in the middle of a terrible day (in fact, that’s probably when it is most important to create some)

There are lots of ways to increase positive emotions.  For now, I am going to focus on the smallest of things we can do to help ourselves.  To increase positive emotions we only need to put our attention on something that evokes positive feelings.  This might mean looking at pictures of baby otters online, watching silly videos on Youtube, or practicing gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is an especially powerful way to bring more positive emotions to your life.  There are lots of different gratitude exercises.  Here is just one:  try naming five things you are grateful about right now.  Think small – did you have enough money to have toothpaste?  A bed with clean sheets?  Legs still strong enough to carry you?  Funny how the smallest things loop around to being the most important.  Challenge yourself.  What is one thing you can do today to introduce the SMALLEST of positive emotions into your day?

To this end, I’ve decided I am going to begin sharing small things I find online that have introduced a positive emotion into my day.  And I’d love if you share things with me that you’ve found to do the trick.  But please don’t forget that we need BOTH positive and negative emotions to find our path.  NO emotions are bad emotions.  We need them all so invite them all in, don’t get stuck in any one emotion, and keep moving forward.

First Positive Emotion Post Coming Up!  Just as soon as I figure out what to name it without sounding too optimistic.

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3 Responses to “Increasing Your Positivity Ratio Without The Need For Optimism”

  1. How do you feel social media with all of its’ sharing and liking, etc. effects our positive emotion? I have read your material, Seligman and others. I am touched by this information and how I can apply it personally and professionally(physical therapy).
    If I can provide some valuable information that touches the “emotional” cord of another, or enhances some aspect of their well-being, then I have also expanded my own sense of well-being. I am becoming more aware of these actions daily. Thank you for your post.

  2. This is an interesting and timely question, as I have an upcoming blog post discussing how I am concerned facebook is affecting our brains. I see social media as a medium that can be used in many different ways – some good, some not so good. I worry that some people go on a sort of facebook quest to like and share things just to move information around without really being moved by the information. More information is not better information.

    For me, I try to share things that hit my own “emotional cord.” We don’t need to do anything other than trust ourselves to know if something is truly bringing about a positive emotion in our own self. The internet seems to have created a new category of mild positive emotion that is marked by reading something funny and then producing a laugh that is not much more than a short puff of air leaving the nose. That’s not enough! A marker of something that might contribute to well being – for me – is when I feel MOVED by something. I know I have found something I want to share when it makes me genuinely laugh, or tear up, or feel a slight warming feeling in my heart area. Emotions live in the body. If you can feel it there then you are probably onto something, and others might also enjoy it. As a physical therapist I bet you know what I mean.

    Also, it makes my heart feel warm to see you connect enhancing well-being in others with enhancing well-being in yourself. Yay!!

    I hope this answers your question!

  3. Thank you Frances for your personal response and sharing on the positive emotion. I will continue to share and check your site for valuable content and learning. Randy Bauer

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