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The Positivity Ratio: Happy All The Time?

Interestingly, research has come up with a way to measure individual's positivity levels. It seems they have created something for almost everything these days, and regardless a few critiques, the positivity ratio is an interesting tool to use to examine your daily positivity.

The theory was created by Fredrickson in 2005 and (to say it in the most easy to understand way) it states that for an individual to flourish, they need to think and feel positive at least 3 times as much as they feel/think negative. So:

3 Positive + 1 Negative = Flourishing

Now you may be thinking 'you want me to put everyone of my thoughts into a ratio?! Are you joking? You must be joking because that's impossible'. We have between 6,000 and 80,000 thoughts in a day (depending on which research you choose to believe), either way that is a lot of thoughts. So don't panic and close the tab... I am not asking you to count out each of your thoughts into bundles of 3 positive and 1 negative. What I feel is important to point out is that this theory is saying (all be it very quietly) you don't have to be positive all the time to live your best life.

Many of us have seen posts saying 'good vibes only', 'just stay positive' or as the song goes 'always look on the bright side of life'. However, the truth is that these encouragements can produce toxic positivity.

Now you've probably heard of toxic masculinity and toxic relationships, but toxic positivity is essentially the new kid on the block; I have been unable to find any research papers on this nasty fellow prior to Halberstam in 2011 (here).

Toxic positivity involves denying or invalidating negative emotions, while using excessive amounts of optimism. It is positivity given in 'the wrong way, in the wrong dose, at the wrong time' - beautifully put by Kessler in his book called 'Finding Meaning' (find it here). This excessive optimism or positivity in a negative situation is actually a form of inappropriate affect (= mood, feeling, emotion), which is where your outward reaction does not match the situation and/or your internal emotional state.

Toxic positivity is also linked to gaslighting - gosh, all the terminology is coming out today. Overall gaslighting is a form of harmful communication that invalidates, minimises or denys your experiences of reality. While gaslighting can be a form of emotional abuse, especially when used by narcissists to manipulate someone into questioning their reality, toxic positivity is often well-meaning. The key difference between the two is the intent behind the action.

Hopefully this has given you a good idea of why you shouldn't be trying to be happy or positive all the time. Going back to the positivity ratio, it is not about counting your thoughts. It is about being self-aware and creating a balance. Positivity is a brilliant thing and optimism or gratitude can work wonders, but take a moment to acknowledge your negative feelings and situations. To thrive and flourish, you don't have to be 100% positive. You can feel the way you feel and have your off moments, that is perfectly normal. You just have to re-focus your mind onto things that make you feel good AFTER acknowledging your current feelings and reality.

Example: Let's say you had a sucky day. In the many ways it could suck... it did. How do you respond to this?

Answer: 'Today sucked... I didn't enjoy it. I feel kinda upset that it sucked as much as it did, BUT I am so darn grateful that today is over.

Tomorrow can be better. I have this thing tomorrow to look forward to.

What can I do right now that would make me feel a bit better?' - generally when I ask myself this question, the answer is tea.

Positivity ratios are actually something I use in coaching when the time is right and the conversation calls for more balance. The whole process draws indirectly off of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (read what NLP is here) by re-framing situations so that you can switch to perspectives that you may not have considered before.

The response I encourage encompasses my 3 A's: Address. Acknowledge. Adjust.

Address the situation. Acknowledge the way you feel. Adjust your perspective.

(Note: I just came up with this right now and I am so pleased with myself! My 3 A's are now copyrighted.)

Considering your thoughts in a more balanced why can help you to try and see both the negative (default) and the positive of a difficult situation. It provides you the chance to release all of the uncomfortable emotions by acknowledging and addressing them, and then allows you to change you perspective to feel better.

So remember:

You don't have to be positive or optimistic all the time to be the best version of you and live your best life

Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions

Aim for balance in your mind

When less triggered lean into more positive/enjoyable thoughts.

Address. Acknowledge. Adjust.


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