Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Thoughts on "Positivity", by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
I just finished the book Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Yes, the title and fluorescent colour of the binding is a little loud for those of you who don't (already) wear neon shoes or hawaiian shirts to work (yet), but lest we judge a book by its cover... ;)
Anyway let's get down to it. I won't review the whole book, just a few comments about a few specific sections that were of particular interest or rang particularly true to me while reading.
Positive Psychology is teh awesome
As my previous post suggests, I'm getting really interested in recent developments in the positive psychology field. After watching "literally" a bazillion TED talks on the subject, emailing Shawn Achor and Tal Ben Shahar and Neil Pasricha and Chris Guillebeau and a few other AMAZING KICK ASS AWESOME people doing AMAZING KICK ASS AWESOME things in this world (and having them ALL write back to me... whhahaaaaaat??!?!?) my interest and excitement about this field of study has only increased.
Why the hell do I need to learn about positivity?
If you know me, you're probably wondering this. Well, as the great Socrates says, "The unexamined life is not worth living", so let's get to this examining! In all seriousness, I know I naturally am this exuberant/positive/excitable person and always have been, but I'm just kinda interested to know why. I'm wondering how I can better affect others, how I can work more dynamically on teams, how I can take what I have and turn it up another notch. The great and constant pursuit of self-improvement.
Dr. Fredrickson's Positivity Ratio
Dr. Fredrickson's main point in the book (based on her research in positive psychology) is that it's not actually the intensity of positive moments that lead you to have a positive, happy life - rather it's the ratio of positive emotions over negative emotions on a long-term, consistent basis. (For the math nerds out there - myself included - she gives the ratio P/N, where P is positive emotions and N is negative emotions. Later, she goes on to explain the negative emotions are weighted more due to something called "negativity bias", and so you need significantly more positive experiences in a given day to outweigh the negative ones because they are "heavier" as such).
Flourishing vs. Languishing
She collaborated with a research team who did mathematical modeling of the positivity ratio phenomenon, and the ratio ended up being roughly 3 to 1 in a variety of controlled situations. Above this ratio, people can be classified as "flourishing", and below as "languishing". The 3-to-1 ratio is a form of "tipping point" and she discusses different forms of positivity and ways to increase your personal ratio over time (both increasing positivity, and/or decreasing negativity).
She seems to understand that the material can lend itself towards flowery language, and she generally has a direct tone, though not in all cases. The area of study is somewhat new, and I found she mentioned many times that the studies are all "backed by science" :) Certainly they are, and she describes the rigor of her studies, but it's too bad that she feels she needs to justify the field of study. I guess it draws a lot of criticism from the more-established forms of Psychology... but in any case I certainly think the area holds a lot of worth and promise.
So that's what the book is about, now I'll talk just briefly about some specific thoughts I had about specific sections.
The Flourishing Personality Type
As Dr. Fredrickson mentions in her book, a "positivity ratio" with her instruments above 3.0 acts as a tipping point. Given consistient measurements above 3, a person is described to be in a "flourishing" state, which was an exciting personality to read about. She discusses that people who are flourishing (a word she borrowed from Martin Seligman, I suspect), perform at extremely high levels, and are so excited about what they are doing and their life, that they not only live well, but they are driven to do well for their surrounding communities. This personality type is inspiring to most, and people who flourish pull in other people with their energy and enthusiasm, and help push them upwards too. (That's the "contagion" effect of positivity). There are plenty of personal life implications of flourishing: enjoyment, happiness, achievable challenges, stable relationships, resilience, being awestruck, open and flexible to new situations... lots.
Why World Travel rocks
I feel like, in general, I understand the benefits of the majority of those benefits as they relate to my personal life. But one thing I've never really thought about is why I LOVE traveling so much. World Travel is always a brand new situation that is certainly challenging but also achievable and generally safe. It's fascinating, it's exciting, it allows you to connect with new people from different countries and learn and expand your world-view... it has almost all of her forms of positivity all wrapped into one. No wonder I love backpacking so much. :)
On that note, one of her unusual studies that originally meant to study something else, stumbled over a proof that positivity helps you recognizes faces from races other than your own more quickly than less-positive people. That's pretty wild and awesome, and plays into Dr. Fredrickson's summary that positivity makes you more "open", including more open to new and different opinions, and in this case, people of other races. Pretty interesting results. Another +1 for my love of travel!
Flourishing People -> Motivated Volunteering
Her studies show conclusively that positivity makes you more creative, and able to make connections between different/disparate elements. As she mentioned, "flourishing" people are also particularly keen to do volunteer work and give back to their communities. I think this clearly explains my interest in the OLPC movement. As I mentioned in a prior post, I am really excited about how OLPC combines a bunch of my personal interests all together into one thing: Technology, Education, and Philanthropy... it's pretty freakin' awesome. And of course, the people I've met so far that volunteer with OLPC are a really interesting, dedicated, kind group of people... so I'm bound to meet some other "floruishers" too. This actually reminds me a bit of OSSSA (Ontario Secondary School Students' Association) - an organization of student leaders that I hung out with a bunch in high school, and made some lifelong friends from it. Everyone there was so motivated, so driven, so positive and interesting and awesome. I don't think I've ever seen that many awesome people together in one place since.
The Creative Class
Finding the OSSSA's of adult life is tough, but there are many flourishers out there. TED seems to be the intellectual gathering of those kinds of passionate minds. Chris Guillebeau's WDC Conference in Portland looks pretty damn amazing and totally my kind of thing. I think there is a lot of this good energy in San Francisco, as it seems to be a real magnet for creative, hard-working, motivated, passionate people. My buddy Andrew Lam suggested I read "Rise of the Creative Class", which discusses exactly that - that places like San Francisco are a magnet for inspired, passionate, talented people. So, as in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, it would seem I have "chosen wisely" on my place to live.
Positivity and its effect on Business
I'm really interested in the implications of positivity on business success. She discussed this briefly - that high performing teams have high connectivity between team members, more outward focus and tend to ask questions rather than advocating their personal point of view only. (At Pixar, I remember they told the interns on our first day that the spirit of Pixar was to say "Yes, and..." rather than "No, but..."). Shawn Achor's book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work is one of the next books to read sitting on my shelf. I'm psyched to learn and think more about this. Let's call that a goal for next year, it's time to finally catch up on some sleep over the holidays. :)
Posted by Mike Jutan at 2:35 AM