Positivity Redefined

“Just as water lilies retract when sunlight fades,
so do our minds when positivity fades.”
Barbara Fredrickson


I have never been what one might call a “Pollyanna” – i.e. an excessively cheerful or optimistic person. At best, I could be described as cautiously optimistic. At worst, “Chicken Little” and I would be friends.

Knowing this about myself, I have become interested in the work of Positive Psychologists like Barbara Fredrickson. My interest in this field started when I learned that Psychology initially had three tiers of focus: i.e. addressing mental health, developing innate talent in youth, and helping promote the skills that would enable one to thrive in life. I believe Barbara Fredrickson’s work exists within the last tier and my interest in her work began when I came across a reference to her book Positivity.  

What struck me in reading about her work and watching various videos (like the one above) were the following: 

  1. There maybe a ratio between positive to negative experiences that contribute to one’s ability to thrive and flourish in life. (This she calls the “Positivity Ratio”).
  2. Experiencing positive emotions versus negative emotions allows one to not only open his/her heart and mind to new possibilities and potentials, but also see the connections that exist between things that enable creative problem solving to take place.  
  3. “Positivity” as she defines it isn’t just about looking at life through rose-colored glasses. It includes things like gratitude, joy, love, hope, curiosity, compassion, engagement, playfulness, awe, serenity, inspiration, appreciation, beauty, and pride.

As someone who has struggled with pessimism, cynicism, not to mention various forms of insecurity, I have found myself triggered at times by suggestions or comments that I needed to “cheer-up.” To me such statements not only invalidated my lived experience, but also made the solution seem so simplistic that there must be something wrong with me for not being able to do it. (This of course lead to more negative emotions as these attempts at forced positivity felt inauthentic and untrue.)  

Through Fredrickson’s work, however, positivity is presented in a broader context beyond optimistic outlook or cheerful demeanor. This broader perspective seems to enable greater access to the benefits that positivity provides – without excluding those who find it challenging to be cheerful or optimistic all the time. These benefits include: improved resiliency, better health, a greater sense of connection, more trust and wellbeing, as well as improved cognitive abilities and performance on various tasks.

With these thoughts in mind, I wanted to share the following questions with you as possible contemplation points this week: 

  • How do you define “positivity”?
  • Where do you already experience it your daily life? 
  • What impact might be had if you were able to cultivate a greater sense of “positivity” in your life, relationships, and/or occupation? 
  • What is one thing you can commit to doing today to develop a greater sense of authentic “positivity” for you?

For me, my practice continues to be the place where I can cultivate a greater sense of compassion, experience joy, as well as engage in mindfulness and curiosity. (In other words, practice “positivity” as defined by Fredrickson). Imagining your practice might serve a similar purpose, I have been developing some online offerings. If you are interested in learning more about these, please reach out to me and I will pass along the information.