Jon and Solange are both on the short list for a promotion at work. Jon has more experience and technical know-how. Solange is newer to the job but is known for her exceptionally positive attitude and a track record of resilience, even in stressful conditions. Who has the greater edge?
Before minimizing Solange's positive attitude as a soft skill, think again. Positivity matters, and in recent years a great deal of science has affirmed that positivity can bolster one's capacity for critical thinking, resilience, personal growth and, ultimately, greater well-being and success.
Positivity is a very brain- and body-friendly emotion, conducive to bringing our best to our work. How so?
According to Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, positivity does more than just replace bad thoughts with good ones.
The pre-eminent scholar on the science of positive emotions says the right dose of positivity can actually change how we think and, over time, even increase our success in life.
In her books, Positivity and Love 2.0, Prof. Fredrickson attributes this to her "broaden and build" theory, based on more than 20 years of research:
Positivity can broaden your mind and open your heart, thus making you more creative and open to new perspectives, she found. A positive attitude can also boost critical thinking skills and ultimately help you to see more possibilities, too. Conversely, negative emotions (such as fear and worry) can limit your thinking and narrow your mindset.
People who practise positivity are more apt to build new skills and social connections, acquire new knowledge and reach for bigger goals. Over time, this can create an upward spiral of effectiveness and success.
Paradoxically, whereas negative emotions tend to stick and endure, positive emotions don't reside in a permanent state. They can be fleeting. To reap the rewards of positivity, one needs to create a steady supply of positive emotions over time.
Prof. Fredrickson is currently teaching a class on the science of positivity through the training organization MentorCoach. (Disclosure: I am a participant.) In a recent lecture, she said positive emotions are more than "icing on the cake" but rather essential nutrients needed for success and well-being.
How much is enough? The more the better, but it turns out the the ideal ratio is at least three positive emotions per negative one. This ratio distinguishes those who thrive from those who merely get by, or worse, languish.
There are many ways to experience more positivity in your life – even when circumstances are challenging. Here are a few ideas that might be helpful:
Commit: Much as people must commit to eating better or exercising more, they must commit to bringing more positivity into their daily lives. Often this calls for reframing situations or trying new perspectives.
Diversify: Prof. Fredrickson cites 10 positive emotions that have been proven to bolster well-being: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
Savour: Slow down and enjoy the positive moments – and then savour them again by capturing them in a journal. Identify at least three good things that happened in any given day and talk about them with others. See the rewards compound as you replay them.
Connect: Prof. Fredrickson says the most powerful of all the emotions is "positivity resonance," when two or more people share a positive emotion. A passing smile, a shared joke, a moment of celebration – the possibilities are endless and can happen with anyone, not just people you know well.
Tap inside: We can have an infinite supply of positivity if we empower ourselves to tap into our internal well. Those who rely only on good things happening externally will find themselves struggling in times of challenge. Positivity can be just a thought away.
Rinse and repeat: It takes repetition to build new habits and to rewire our brains to have a more positive outlook. The good news is that our brains have a tremendous ability to build new neural pathways. You can indeed teach an old dog new tricks if you try.
Eileen Chadnick is a work-life coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. Follow her at Twitter@Chadnick. Her book, Ease, will be available later this fall.