If you are like most people, you are constantly looking for happiness outside of yourself – and coming up short. The good news is, whatever your current circumstances, you possess inside you what it takes to reshape your life and the world around you for the better.
Positivity reigns whenever positive emotions are triggered – like love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, and inspiration – all can open your heart. But good feelings come and go; negative thoughts and emotions will undoubtedly creep into your life. To flourish, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. in her book, Positivity, says what matters most is to increase your quantity of positivity to increase your positivity ratio. Barbara suggests aiming for a positivity ratio of at least 3 to 1. This means that for every heart wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you must aim to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. This is the ratio that Barbara finds to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.
Humans are not static; we are either on a positive trajectory or a negative one. Either we are growing in goodness, becoming more creative and resilient, or we’re solidifying our bad habits, becoming more stagnant and rigid. People who flourish function at extraordinary high levels – both psychologically and socially; they are more creative, joyful, and playful; they are eager to explore, learn, and savor; they are more able to open their hearts and minds to the world around them. But flourishing is not just about making yourself happy; it’s about doing something valuable with your day and with your life. Learning how to flourish will give you your best possible life. Positivity will help you get there.
Barbara writes about ten forms of positivity that have been proven through research to color people’s day to day lives the most. Whether you experience positivity or not depends vitally on how you think. Positive emotions – like all emotions – arise from how you interpret events and ideas as they unfold; this dependence on thinking is what makes positivity so fragile; our minds can be overloaded with worries, doubts, and demands. People who enjoy the sweet fruits of positive thinking understand this simple truth – we all have the power to turn positivity on and off for ourselves; we all have the power to flourish. Experiment with turning on the following ten forms of positivity in your life right now:
1) Joy. Visualize your surroundings are safe and familiar; things are going your way – even better than you expected. At the moment the situation requires little effort on your part; these are the circumstances that spark joy. Imagine you are out to dinner with good friends and delighted in their good company. Joy feels bright and light; colors are more vivid; there is a spring in your step; your face lights up with a smile and inner glow. What brings you joy?
2) Gratitude. We can feel grateful for the clean air we breathe, the food available to us, our health and able bodies, our families and friends, or having a safe and comfortable place to live. In any case, gratitude comes when we appreciate something that has come our way as a gift to be treasured. Gratitude opens our heart and the urge to give back. When was the last time you expressed gratitude for all of the beautiful things in your life?
3) Serenity. Like joy, serenity enters when your surroundings are safe and familiar and require little effort on your part. It’s when you lay back on a shaded hammock, stroll on a sandy beach, work in your garden, take a relaxing boat ride, or curl up next to a warm fire. Serenity makes you want to sit back and soak it in. How often do you treat yourself to serenity?
4) Interest. When you are interested you feel open and alive. Something new or different draws your attention, filling you with a sense of possibility or mystery; you are utterly fascinated; it’s when you uncover a new set of challenges that allow you to build new skills. The intense pull of interest beckons you to explore, to take in new ideas, and to learn more; it’s invigorating and exciting. Are you placing yourself in situations to spark your interest?
5) Hope. Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful your situation is at the moment, things can become better; possibilities exist. Hope sustains you; it keeps you from collapsing into despair; it inspires you to plan for a better future. What hopes do you have for your future?
6) Pride. Pride blossoms in the wake of an achievement for which you can take credit; you invested your skills and effort and succeeded. It’s that good feeling you get when your hard work on a project or toward a goal which has paid off. Pride carries with it the urge to share the news of your achievements with others. The mindscape of pride is expansive as well; it kindles dreams of further and larger achievements in similar domains. In this way pride fuels the motivation to achieve. What make you proud? What can pride inspire you to do?
7) Amusement. Sometimes something unexpected happens that simply makes you laugh. What brings amusement? First, amusement is social; laughter is generally something we share with another. Second, surprises are only amusing if they are embedded within safe contexts. So heartfelt amusement brings the irrepressible urge to laugh and share joviality with others; shared laughter signals that you find your situation to be safe and lighthearted and you would like to use this time to build connections with others. How often do you enjoy amusing social time with friends?
8) Inspiration. Inspiration is a response you feel to seeing someone else do something extraordinarily well. Feeling inspired rivets your attention, warms your heart, and draws you in. Inspiration doesn’t simply feel good, it makes you want to express what is good and do good yourself. It creates the urge to do your best so that you can lift yourself to higher ground. Inspiration is a form of positivity that pulls us out of our shell of self-absorption. Who has inspired you lately? How often do you make a choice to be inspired?
9) Awe. Awe is closely related to inspiration. Awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale; you literally feel overwhelmed by greatness. Awe makes boundaries melt away and you feel part of something larger than yourself. Mentally you are challenged to absorb the sheer scale of what you have encountered; by comparison, you feel small and humble. Sometimes we’re awed by nature, sometimes by humanity. What has transfixed you with awe?
10)Love. Often in close relationships, good feelings of love can stir our heart when we feel safe. Love can be felt when we share amusement and laughter together, when we share our hopes and dreams for the future with someone, when another person brings us great joy. The feelings of love are present when we sink back into serenity with another person, when we are grateful for having a certain person in our life, when we are as proud of their achievements as your own, and when we are inspired by their good qualities. Each of these moments could be described as a moment of love. Viewing love in this way can sharpen your ability to see love as a momentary state – as a surge – and not simply a description of a relationship. You may have several intimate relationships where they are each viewed as producing recurrent surges of love. Think of times when you have felt love surge within you; become more aware of love surges in the future to build feelings of positivity and flourish.
We all have a surprising amount of control over the emotions we feel. To feel positive emotions, you simply cannot “will it.” You must instead locate one of several quite specific levers to turn on positivity. This means you can “think something” as well as “do something” to rouse positivity. Each of these ten forms of positivity holds the ability to broaden and build your life. Each lays a pathway toward your higher ground. And as your positivity ratio reaches its tipping point, each helps you to flourish.