Positivity Leads to a Flourishing Life

by Stephen Mills on March 31, 2009


I am very excited about bringing this article to you and about this topic in general.  A toolkit is provided to help you significantly increase your heartfelt positivity, so be sure to read to the end.  Please do yourself a favor and get the following book by Barbara L. Fredrickson:  Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive.   I cannot say enough about this book and I highly recommend you get it.  This book teaches you how to use positivity to change your life; to tip over into abundant flourishing.

This book is written by a scientist; a psychology researcher.  This fact and the scientific data behind her research, made this book particularly appealing to me.

The latest scientific evidence tells us that positivity doesn’t simply reflect success and health, it can also produce success and health.  This means that even after positivity fades, we can find traces of its impact.  Beyond the present moment, your positivity has downstream consequences for the very trajectory of your life.  Positivity spells the difference between whether you languish or flourish.  — Barbara Fredrickson

What is Positivity?

It’s not the Stuart Smalley (Saturday Night Live) “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” kind of positivity.  It’s not simply saying “Don’t worry.  Be happy.” either.  It is sincere and heartfelt emotions like love, joy, amusement, gratitude, serenity, interest, inspiration, awe, and connection.  It includes those meanings and attitudes that lead to open minds, open hearts, and a relaxed and soft face.

Here is how the author describes heartfelt positivity:

Think of the times you feel connected to others and loved; when you feel playful, creative, or silly; when you feel blessed and at one with your surroundings; when your soul is stirred by the sheer beauty of existence; or when you feel energized and excited by a new idea or hobby. — Barbara Fredrickson

That’s probably not what you typically think of when you think of being positive.  I know it is a different way of looking at positivity than I had looked at it in the past.  It is a lot broader and deeper.  Unfortunately though those moments when you are experiencing heartfelt positive emotions are fleeting.  They fade.

The Six Vital Facts About Positivity

  1. Positivity Just Feels Good – Positivity is light and buoyant.  It sparkles with good feelings.
  2. Positivity Changes How Your Mind Works – It changes the boundaries of your mind and widens the span of possibilities that you are able to experience.
  3. Positivity Transforms Your Future – Over time positivity brings out the best in you.  It builds up your emotional resources leaving you more resilient and able to withstand the challenges life throws at you.
  4. Positivity Puts the Brakes on Negativity – Positivity can calm negativity like a reset button.
  5. Positivity Has a Tipping Point – There is a point where the ratio of your positive to negative emotions tips you over into living a flourishing life. (This information alone is worth the price of the book.)
  6. You Can Increase Your Positivity – You have the power to control about 50% of your life’s emotional balance (the other 50% is genetic).

The Positivity Ratio – The Tipping Point

If the ratio of your positive to negative emotional experiences goes over 3 to 1, you will pass the tipping point into a life of flourishing.  If you stay below that 3 to 1 ratio, then you will tend to languish where you are at.  Strange as it may seem that something like life flourishing is ruled by such a mathematical ratio, Dr. Fredrickson makes a good case for just that.  I will be working on this just like most of the rest of you.

How to Increase Your Positivity Ratio Past the Tipping Point

Decrease Negativity

You get the most bang for your buck towards increasing your positivity ratio when you decrease your negativity.

  • Dispute Negative Thinking – Examine the facts; take them in and and really look at the situation.  This brings a calm rational manner into the picture and the knot in your stomach and the anger disappear.  You are not to repress the negative thought or paper it over.  You are simply checking it against reality and you invariable find it is not as bad as you first thought.
  • Stop Ruminating – Don’t keep going over and over your negative thoughts and feelings.  Doing so only gets you stuck in a rut and continues to fan the flames of your negativity.  Learn to recognize when you are ruminating on negative thoughts, and then stop it by finding another activity to distract you.  Don’t distract yourself with drinking, eating, or some other unhealthy habit.  Go for a walk or jog, do yoga, read a book, or anything that fully absorbs you and takes your mind off of your negative feelings.
  • Become More Mindful – Pay attention in a particularly focused way to you thoughts in the present moment.  Mindfulness is non-judgmental.  It is observing the contents of your mind in a calm and non-reactive manner.  Meditating is a good way to experience mindfulness.
  • Diffuse Your Negativity Land Mines – Look for patterns that cause you to experience negativity.  Find those recurring situations that trigger your negative feelings.  Maybe you find yourself negative and stressed after your commute.  Try riding a bus and reading instead of driving.  Do certain people always bring you down?  Avoid them.  Whatever the trigger, see if you can come up with a way to diffuse it.  You can’t do this for everything, but the more you diffuse higher your ratio will rise.
  • Assess Your Media Diet – TV News is by its nature very negative.  Violent movies or video games are inherently negative.  Almost everything in mass media is negative in some way.  Pictures of beautiful models create a negative feeling in you because you don’t match up.  I suggest you turn the TV off and leave it off.  Use the Internet and scan for headlines that are more likely to contain a positive or at least neutral story.
  • Substitute Humor for Gossip and Sarcasm – Try poking fun at peoples’ positive attributes instead of gossiping about them.  The behind the back talk or the continual sarcastic comments take a heavy toll on positivity.
  • Deal With Negative People – Modify the social situation, attend to it differently, or change its meaning.
    1. Modify the Social Situation – Are you baiting this person?  Are you feeding their negativity is some way?  Give them more attention, express more warmth, or ask more questions when you are interacting with them.  Put more compassion, hope, or humor into the interaction.  Don’t respond in kind to gratuitous negativity.
    2. Attend Differently – Figure out a way to attend to different aspects of this person.  What are their positive attributes?  Surely there is something good about them that you can focus on when you are tempted to get negative about them.
    3. Change Meanings – Could this person or situation be a teacher in disguise?  You get to choose how you react to the negativity that comes from others.  Try being thankful to them person for giving you an opportunity to practice non-judgmental and non-reactive behavior.

Increase Positivity

Increase your heartfelt positivity and unleash the flourishing possibilities in your life.

  • Sincerity Matters – To feel true positivity, you must slow down and feel it in your heart.  Positivity that is not heartfelt is empty and useless.  Fake positivity can even be harmful.
  • Find Positive Meaning More Frequently – See your glass half full instead of half empty.  Recast the unpleasant in a more positive way.  Things are rarely 100% bad.  Find the good and positive meaning in them.  When something bad happens, think about how lucky you are to have your friends and loved ones.
  • Savor Goodness – Consider good events in such a way that you generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment of them.  Slow down and attend them mindfully.
  • Count Your Blessings – Transform ordinary events into blessings.
  • Kindness Counts – Step up your kind actions.  Volunteer more.  Pick one day a week to really step up your kindness to a higher level.
  • Follow Your Passions – Live with passions and do those things that allow you to enter flow.  Flow is that state in which you are totally absorbed in what you are doing.  You are fully engaged.
  • Dream About Your Future – Conjure up the best possible outcomes for yourself.  Visualize your future success in great detail.
  • Apply Your Strengths – If you do what you do best every day, you are far more likely to flourish.  Reshape your daily work and life in such a way that you are able to apply your strengths more often.
  • Connect With Others – Everyone who flourishes has warm positive relationships with other people.  Connect with other people every day no matter what.  Cultivate tenderness and compassion in dealing with others.
  • Connect With Nature – Natural environments may be as important to flourishing as social environments.  Spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors in the most natural and awe inspiring environments you can find.
  • Open Your Mind – Open your mind by practicing mindfulness.  Focus on the present moment and open yourself to the experience.  Be mindfully aware of your surroundings.
  • Open Your Heart – Practice loving kindness.  Direct warm and compassionate feelings to yourself and others.

Toolkit For Increasing Your Positivity Ratio

Obviously I can’t do justice to this practice in this short article, but here are twelve tools you can use to increase your positivity ratio.  Refer back to this frequently. What follows is a toolkit to implementing what you have learned above.

  1. Be Open – Cultivate curiosity and acceptance of whatever you are currently experiencing.  Attend to what is happening without trying to or wishing for change.  Be present and simply observer with mindful awareness.
  2. Create High-Quality Connections – Truly connect with others by:
    • Respectfully engage.  Be present, attentive, and affirming.
    • Support what the other person is doing.  Do what you can to help them.
    • Trust.  Show them that you believe you can depend upon them.
    • Play.  Goof off with no particular expectation in mind.
  3. Cultivate Kindness – Find new ways to make a difference in the lives of others.  Take actions that really make a difference and come at a cost to you.
  4. Develop Distractions – Make two lists: HEALTHY DISTRACTIONS and UNHEALTHY DISTRACTIONS.  Unhealthy distractions would be things like eating, drinking, watching TV, etc.  Healthy distractions would be things like riding your bike, going for a run, or reading a book.  Use your healthy distractions when you feel yourself going into a negativity spiral.
  5. Dispute Negative Thinking – Write down your recurring negative thought patterns on index cards.  Then go through them and read them aloud one at a time.  For each one dispute it.  Examine the facts.  Now you are practiced at disputing these negative experiences before they occur.  Now when they do occur, you can dispute them instantly; before going down the spiral.  Whenever you experience a new type of gratuitous negativity, add it to your card deck.
  6. Find Nearby Nature – When the weather is good, go outside and experience the beauty of nature.  Find particularly beautiful and natural places like the beach, the woods, or a flower garden.  Make these places regular destinations.
  7. Learn and Apply Your Strengths – Go to http://www.authentichappiness.com and take the “Brief Strengths Test”.  This will rank your strengths for you.  Redesign your life so that your job or your daily activities draw on your most powerful strengths.
  8. Meditate Mindfully – Read this article.  How to Meditate Mindfully
  9. Meditate on Loving Kindness – Start with mindful meditation and then reflect on a person for whom you have felt warm tender compassion.  Visualize how being with this loved one makes you feel.  Then drop the image and hold onto the feeling.  Extend the feeling to yourself.  Cherish yourself.  Now radiate your warm, tender, and compassionate feelings towards others close to you.  Next extend it to all people you have a connection with and then finally extend it to all people and life on earth.
  10. Ritualize Gratitude – Create a gratitude journal where you record those things you are grateful for each and every day.
  11. Savor Positivity – Ponder a past moment of positivity.  Roll the mental images around in your mind.  Look at them from all angles. Cherish them again and drink in their sweetness. When you experience new feelings of positivity, use this technique to extend and enhance them.  Narrate your experience.  Extend and enhance those fleeting moments by savoring them.
  12. Visualize Your Future – Imagine yourself ten years down the road.  Visualize where and how you would be if all your dreams had come true.  Write this all down.  Continue to fill in the details over a period of a week.   Describe your surroundings and feelings.  After a week review this and extract your life’s mission.  What purpose do you want to drive you?  Why do you get up in the morning?  What is the meaning of your existence?  Then craft a short mission statement and memorize it.  Use this to guide your daily decisions.

I want to extend heartfelt thanks to Dr. Fredrickson for bringing this information to me, and thus allowing me to bring it to you.

Get Free Updates to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or to a reader in the top left sidebar. I would love to have you aboard.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

{ 4 trackbacks }

Gratitude Watch - 2009-03-31 — The Meaning of Existence (and all that)
March 31, 2009 at 11:34 pm
Yes You Can! — The Rat Race Trap
April 5, 2009 at 8:00 pm
How To Take Care of Your Brain — The Rat Race Trap
April 13, 2009 at 7:01 am
Only Positive News » Blog Archive » 6 Vital Facts about Positivity
August 10, 2010 at 8:29 am

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills March 31, 2009 at 10:12 am

Excellent work Stephen,

You covered all the important aspects of being positive and gave so good pointers to follow through on. The choice to be positive is one that dramatically influences our entire life. I gave up watching the news about 25 years ago because it was only negative all the time. Removing negative influences makes it much easier to focus on the positive. Your “Decrease Negativity” section covered this point nicely.


Robin Easton March 31, 2009 at 7:07 pm

This post is like a guideline for living. It covers it all. Like Jonathan, I too gave news 25 – 30 years ago. And am very selective as to what I choose to let in. Often people will share how to be positive but don’t always give detailed directions on how to decrease negativity. I chuckled when I got to that part. LOVE it!! I think it’s important that you shared this because some people really don’t see the things they do every day and have done for years that create negativity. And part of this can be because they see everyone else around them doing these same things. On the surface they can appear innocuous, but in reality are downers. This spells it right out. Thank you “RatRaceTrap”. Great post!! 🙂


Do You Dave Ramsey? March 31, 2009 at 8:38 pm

This is a fantastic article… I need to keep this one on speed dial… I must have for my next round-up!

Thanks for the great advice and book recommendation!


Tracy March 31, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Thank you for the book recommendation. I think this is a post I will have to refer to again and again. I’ve been making strides in my life trying to be more positive and less negative and it’s paid off beautifully. I’m not perfect, but I am more peaceful and have more joy.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 31, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Thank you all for the comments but I’m just the messenger of a great message by Dr. Fredrickson.

What makes this so exciting to me is that it is a rapidly expanding area of psychology. That science used to focus on how to cure the sick and now it has a major scientific focus on human flourishing. It’s nice to see that in many areas we are now not just asking how to survive, but how to thrive as humans.


Daniel Brenton April 1, 2009 at 12:29 am

This post was highlighted in the March 31 edition of Gratitude Watch.

Thank you for promoting the value of gratitude.


Giovanna Garcia April 1, 2009 at 3:11 am

What a wonderful post. A love of great information that we al need. I love the toolkits they are very useful. I will add the book on my shoping list.
Thank you for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action


CathD April 1, 2009 at 3:45 am

Excellent post, Stephen, with some great practical tips – I’ll look out for the book.

For me, who you’re BEING makes all the difference in creating the life you want. What life do we want? We all just want to feel good – the only reason we want all the other stuff (a successful business/ a promotion/ a nice house/ a partner/ children/ nice car/ whatever else) is because we believe it’ll make us feel good. And we can have all the feelings we want right now – we don’t have to wait until we have that stuff.

This post is a great summary of how you can get the feelings you want now, and what I call living from a “love state” instead of a fear state.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 1, 2009 at 9:42 am

@Daniel, thank you so much! Much appreciated.

@Giovanna, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you enjoy the book.

@CathD, thank you for the insightful comments. You are right we only want stuff because we think it will make us happy and it generally doesn’t.


Glen Allsopp April 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Nice Stephen, this must have taken a while to put together.

Regarding positivity, I read something recently that i thought was interesting, where someone claimed if you try to be positive then it’s just covering up some negativity you have. You will be positive / happy in the moment is you just let everything be.

I thought that was an interesting perspective!



Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm

@Glen, yes that is an interesting perspective. It is probably necessary though, because you can’t experience the positive without experiencing the negative. Thanks for stopping by to comment!


Lance April 3, 2009 at 4:03 am

This really does sound like a great book, and you’ve given some excellent bullet points on bringing positivity into our lives! The concept of the 3 to 1 ratio – I find this highly intriguing – and this alone makes me want to be more productive! Awesome stuff!


Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

@Lance, thank you for your comments. I believe this is great stuff and possibly life-changing!


Carla April 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Being mindful of my thoughts both positive and negative is a challenge for me at times. I get into these thought patterns and the next think I know, I have had 10 minutes worth of negative thoughts. Old habits die hard, but I have to keep working at it to completely kill it. I will definitely add the book to my Amazon shopping list.


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