When you study and practice in the field of positive psychology, people expect you to be happy ALL THE TIME. Well here’s a confession, I’m not! (don’t worry, I’m not unhappy all of the time either – that wouldn’t be great for my credibility!). Expecting to be happy all of the time is one of the greatest myths about happiness. – it’s both completely unrealistic as well as scientifically incorrect.
Being constantly up-beat and floating through life, seeing the bright side in everything and spreading our sunny disposition regardless of circumstances, is just not reality. We’re all exposed to difficult experiences and challenging circumstances, often outside of our control, which contribute to troublesome thoughts, difficult feelings and intense suffering. In this context, happiness is not about denying or overriding the negativity, but accepting the reality that bad things can and do happen, and learning how to harness all of our resources to stay resilient and bounce back from adversity.
Scientifically, we know from the work of positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, that far from needing to feel positive emotion all the time to be happy, it’s the ratio of positivity to negativity in our lives that’s important. We need three times as much positivity as negativity to maintain our happiness and well-being, and buffer us against a downward spiral in mental health.
How do we increase our positivity ratio?
Get familiar with positive emotions
Although we generally have much more positivity than negativity in our lives, the negative emotions often seem to dominate our thoughts and feelings. Participants in my positive psychology workshops usually find it really hard to name positive emotions beyond happiness and fun, yet we have a whole pallet of positive emotion to draw on in our day to day experience. Make yourself a list of positive emotions and start noticing them – they include joy, inspiration, awe, gratitude, love, kindness, serenity, hope pride, curiosity and more.
Recognise that we can hold both positive and negative emotions concurrently
Even when we’re really suffering through loss or injustice, it’s still possible to experience moments of joy, kindness, love, gratitude and other positive emotions. As kids, we experience our emotional state as black and white – things are either good or bad, we’re either happy or sad. As adults we need to recognise that we can be both – our range of emotions is vast and not mutually exclusive.
Learn to identify your positive emotion triggers
When did you last feel good? How did you get there? Make a list of anything that brings on positive emotion for you – going for a walk, listening to music, playing with the dog, hobbies, people, places…. We’re all unique in what triggers each positive emotion in our pallet. If climbing mountains triggers awe, plan to get out into nature once a week. If you get inspired by ordinary people achieving extraordinary things, try to read more biographies or watch inspirational movies. Whilst it might be hard to change some of the negativity in our lives, it’s usually more within our control to increase our positivity ratio by creating opportunities to experience positive emotion, even (and especially) when times are tough.
If you’re interested in reading more about the positivity ratio, or would like to take a short, free assessment to measure your own ratio, go to www.positivityratio.com
Contact me to discuss how coaching can help you increase your positivity ratio, even during tough times.