Positivity – Barbara L. Fredrickson

I picked this little gem up from the library around the same time that I discovered The Happiness Project, and can only put it down to serendipity.

It is written by an academic and research scientist.  The first part of the book is dedicated to explaining, with many reference notes throughout, the science of positive psychology.  The second part to applying that knowledge in real life.

It introduces the author’sBroaden and Build” theory of positive emotions.  It also goes on to indicate that to truly flourish in life you need to reach a certain ratio of positive to negative emotional events.

I found it a very easy and informative read.  A lot of the outcomes of the research are intuitive and feel right, but it was interesting to find out a bit more about the mechanisms involved in generating a positive life.  While it is written by an academic it is not dry and statistical, despite the author’s self-confessed love of numbers and number-crunching.

We learn about the 10 most common forms of positivity, “happiness” being too vague a term for Dr Fredrickson.  They are: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.  We learn how these interact and encourage our broadening of mind and building of resources and resilience.   We also learn that we need many more positive emotional experiences than negative as our psychological make-up puts more emphasis on the negative.

Then we move on to the last part of the book where we get to the nitty-gritty of what you can do to increase your positive to negative ratio.  It contains a range of suggestions that have been put through the research process and found to have made a difference to the research subjects.

The first of these is to reduce the negativity in your life.  I was taken with the idea of necessary negative emotions and gratuitous negative emotions and distinguishing between the two of them.  The key is to reduce or eliminate as much of the gratuitous type as you can.  I noted five good suggestions here, many of which I plan to employ in my Year of Happiness experiment.  Within each of these suggestions came mini-suggestions of how to apply them.

Just by way of note, some external gratuitous negativity for you to consider:

  • your media diet.  “If it bleeds, it leads” is often the philosophy of the news department.  Maybe becoming more discretionary in your choice of what news to read or view would be a good starting point.  Fredrickson makes comment about getting news online rather than from television, allowing her to choose what she takes in each day.
  • other media.  Excessive violence in TV or movies.  How about computer games?  Might be a good idea to cut back a bit of the heavier and excessive of these if you don’t feel that your life is overly wonderful and buzzing with joy.

Once you have attended to reducing and dealing with your gratuitous negativity, and note that not all of that will be external, it is time to move on to increasing your positivity.

In this section I have noted 11 different suggestions for you to apply.  Some come with caveats, as Dr Fredrickson’s research indicates that employing certain strategies only seem to work well if carried out in certain ways.  For example, one way to give yourself a positivity boost is by intentionally noting and boosting your acts of kindness.  However, she goes on to suggest that this works much better if you do several large acts on a single day rather than spreading them out throughout the week.

Don’t take that to mean that you can be mean-spirited for the rest of the week though. 😉

As it turns out, I have already instigated one of the suggestions: Count Your Blessings.
I have begun a gratitude journal and plan to continue on with that.  One note here too.  If you commit to doing a journal (of any kind, really), the key is to ensure it doesn’t become a chore.  Try not to be rigid and have rules like “write 5 things every day”.  Any positivity gained may soon be drowned out with guilt for not making your 5 entries, or for skipping days in their entirety.  The point is to enhance, not to drag down.
At this point “Positivity” crossed over with The Happiness Project where Gretchin Rubin suggests keeping a One-Sentence Journal.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in perking up their life.  Even if you think you are happy in general, apparently you can be happier.  Only 20% of the population hit the ratio for a flourishing existence.  If you’re lucky enough to be one of them, you can certainly pass this by.  If you’re like me and are in the remaining 80%, then maybe spending a bit of your free time reading this will turn out to be time well spent.

Well done for getting this far.  Here’s the reward for reading to the end.

Do you want to know if you are in the top 20% or in the majority 80%?
Easy.  Visit Dr Fredrickson’s nice little website and take the test.  It couldn’t be simpler – 20 questions and you get your ratio.  A note here too – the good Dr suggests that you do this daily for about two weeks to get a baseline.  After all, some days are fabulous and others you would like to start over from scratch.
I knew that I needed perking up – sleep deprivation for six months tends to do that to you – but even I got a bit of a surprise with my ratio result.  I’ve signed up, even given permission for my test results to go into the ongoing scientific research.

If your ratio is regularly and consistently below 1:1, then you should apparently be considering seeking some external assistance.  However, alongside that external assistance for possible depression (or PND if you’re a mother) I think that the suggestions for raising you ratio are another valuable tool to employ in order to step back into a better balance.   They are not a replacement for help, but an adjunct to it.

Now, if you don’t mind too much, I am going to indulge in a little positivity boost for myself.  In this case I will be calling on the positive aspect of pride.
Hooray – finally a book review hits my blog.  It’s been two months since I last wrote about my reading and that was to recommend a cook book !  Take another two months before that for a biography of Picasso and then another four months back to Three Cups of Tea.  You would think that I was barely reading a thing at the rate the reviews are forthcoming.  While setting no records, I am actually managing to get through a couple of books each month.  I’m looking forward to sharing my reading with you more frequently from now on.

Thanks for staying with me to the end.  May you have a happy day today. 🙂

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