Has negativity taken over at work? With the experience of a long, painful recession, the usual level of stress, complaints and worries has ratcheted up for most of us. But research from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson says it’s time for a much-needed shift to positivity.

Fredrickson’s book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, pulls together her 20 years of research on positive emotions. “Negative emotions are contagious, but so are positive emotions,” Fredrickson says. “Leaders who cultivate positivity have the chance to tip the scale from narrow, negative thinking to foster broad, innovative thinking and resiliency. This has enormous implications for the productivity of your teams and organizations.”

Positivity isn’t just about nixing the negative, according to Fredrickson. It requires experiencing and cultivating 10 positive emotions and the patterns of thinking that lead to them: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.

Here’s the short version of how positivity works, adapted from Fredrickson’s book:

Fact 1: Positivity feels good. This may be obvious, but it is an essential point, says Fredrickson. The sparkle of good feelings makes you want more, creating motivation to change. But the good feeling is just the beginning.

Fact 2: Positivity changes how your mind works. Positivity doesn’t just change the contents of your mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibilities that you see. Although this broadened mindscape is temporary, you escape the tightness of negativity and gain elbow room for greater flexibility and seeing the big picture.

Fact 3: Positivity transforms your future. Positivity literally brings out the best in you. It builds resources for the future. However subtle and fleeting, your moments of positivity accumulate and compound over time to build lasting resources for life. You become stronger, wiser, more resilient and more socially integrated.

Fact 4. Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. When hard times threaten to suck you down negativity’s downward spiral, positivity applies the brakes and allows you to bounce back. Even in dark times, positivity continues to broaden your mind and build your resources.

Fact 5: Positivity obeys a tipping point. This may be the most stunning and practical fact to emerge from the science of positivity. Effects that are virtually nonexistent at one starting point grow disproportionately large at a different starting point. Most people experience a 2-to-1 ratio of positivity to negativity. But as you raise your ratio above 3-to-1, a transformation occurs. You feel more alive, creative and resilient.

Fact 6: You can increase your positivity. Through your own efforts, you can raise your positivity ratios and tip yourself from languishing to flourishing. You have more control over your ratio than you realize.

Feeling Positive?

Noticing what’s good and positive about your work and the world around you is more about choice than you probably think. Positive interpretations of your situation — even the most difficult ones — lead to positive emotions and positive outcomes.

Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, says that emotions are “highly individualized, depending more on your inner interpretations than on your outer circumstances.” She has studied a constellation of 10 positive emotions that, when experienced often and over time, build our resilience and create mental, emotional and physical benefits:

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love

Fredrickson says to ask yourself: When did I last experience these feelings? What were the circumstances? How could I create more of those moments?

What’s your ratio of positive to negative emotions? Take the Positivity self-test and sign up for online tools at www.positivityratio.com.

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