The science of positivity: How little by little we can reshape who we are

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People with a high ratio of positivity are more likely to meet life’s challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, becoming successful, healthy and happy throughout their lives.

There is now a body of research, most notably the publication of a landmark paper by Barbara Fredrickson which suggests that frequent positive emotions accrue and contribute to important downstream life outcomes, including friendship development, marital satisfaction, higher incomes and better physical health. People who experience frequent positive emotions have also been shown to live longer.

Put simply, positive emotions broaden our outlook in ways that, little by little, reshape who we are.

Positive emotions broaden our attention and thinking, our choice of desired actions and increase our openness to new experiences. At the interpersonal level, positive emotions increase the prospect of us experiencing positive relationships with others.

Those who experience or express positive emotions show increases over time in optimism, resilience and mental health.

The origins of negativity

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By contrast negativity has its origins in the survival instincts of our ancestors. Negative emotions were often related to life threatening situations and therefore are experienced with greater intensity. As a result we are always on the lookout for bad news, often placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis on it. This is then perpetuated through discussion with others. Sound familiar?

Negative emotions such as fear and anger narrow our focus and decrease our options or possibilities. These negative emotions make us feel more anxious and insecure reducing our choices to a fight or flight response. A workplace situation could for example limit our options to complaining to our employer or looking for another job. Although we may view the circumstances to be to blame for our fight or flight response, it is primarily our negative interpretation of what is happening that is to blame. Spending the majority of time deliberating over work with negative thoughts or imagining how things would be much better if only we could get out of our job means we are choosing to be unhappy. Even if such negative thoughts spur us into taking action the likelihood is that we will find ourselves back in a similar place elsewhere emotionally speaking.

The pursuit of greater positivity is not about eliminating negative emotions but about increasing the presence of positive ones, improving the ratio of positive to negative emotions.

Building Positivity

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As humans we possess:

  • Self awareness – we are conscious of our own character, feelings, motives and desires
  • Imagination – we can form new ideas, images or concepts that are not present to our senses
  • Conscience – Our moral sense of right and wrong acts as a guide to our behaviour
  •  Independent will to act

What matters is how you respond to your experiences in life. It is your freedom to choose.

The first step in understanding and developing your positivity is to start noticing your feelings and how you have chosen to respond. Think about the emotions that you have experienced throughout the day and whether the emotions were positive or negative. Consider how intense the emotion was at the time. At the end of the day think about the  overall balance of positive and negative emotions.

Try and understand what affects your positivity and small changes you could make that could improve your positivity. For example, what were you doing when your positivity ratio was higher that you need to do more of, what situations engender negative emotions and what actions can you take to reduce these emotions? If you are seeing yourself as the victim of your emotions, think about the actions you take and how they have an impact on your positivity ratio.

Do not assume that the only path to positivity or happiness is following success. Clearly realising a goal or achievement engenders positive emotions however putting off happiness like this may stifle the development of greater positivity and success. How often have you experienced thoughts such as:

“if I could just  _ then I’ll be happy” 

“once I achieve _ then I’ll be satisfied”

or “If only _ then I will be much happier” 

Researchers have identified a compounding effect or an “upward spiral” that occurs with happy people. They are happy, so they develop new skills, those skills lead to new success, which results in more happiness and the process repeats itself.

In other words, happiness is both the catalyst for success and the product of success.

Aurora Partners – FREE Positivity Tracker

In order to help you to understand and develop your positivity levels Aurora Partners have produced a Positivity Tracker that is free for personal use and can be used to track your positivity.

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Download the free Aurora Partners Positivity Tracker: AuroraPartnersPositivityTracker

We hope that the free template serves as an aid to the development of your positivity and look forward to your feedback on our blog or via email.

For more details on how Aurora Partners could help you build a more positive and resilient organisation please visit our website at http://www.aurorapartners.co.uk or get in touch via info@aurorapartners.co.uk.


 Aurora Partners |Applying Peripheral Vision

Keeping an eye on today. Developing a view of tomorrow
World2Enterprise Resilience – Managing Risk & Maximising Opportunities

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