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Having a positive outlook can help people bounce back faster from tough times. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Having a positive outlook can help people bounce back faster from tough times. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Rotman Magazine

Leadership and the power of being positive Add to ...

What we’ve learned is that people who flourish in life – those who seem to be living at optimal levels and really thriving – have a higher ratio of positive-over-negative-emotions than the rest of us. We have come up with a mathematical model and empirical data that indicate a tipping point of about three-to-one in this ‘positivity ratio.’ That is, we need to experience at least three positive emotions to lift us up and buoy us for every one negative emotion that we experience that drags us down and narrows our thinking. The reason why it isn’t one-to-one is due to those asymmetries we talked of earlier – the fact that negative emotions ‘scream’ so much louder than positive ones, and yet positive emotions are much more frequent. If you want to move the needle from just ‘getting by’ to flourishing, increasing your ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions is key to doing that.

What is the first step for a leader who wants to bring more positivity to their organization?

There is amazing power in just focusing on what is good and right in the organization, and giving some space and time to that. Too often, we get so caught up in, “What’s the next problem to be solved? What’s the next worry on the horizon?” that we fail to give words and time to savouring the good stuff that we all want to be creating. When people are doing things right, call that out; or when you are facing a major challenge, think about rephrasing it. You might ask, “What is the positive outcome that we’re aiming to create here?” Virtually every challenge you face can be phrased in negative terms or positive terms, and as a leader, the way you cast it shapes how others see it. If you cast it in positive terms, you will create more space for dreaming big and instilling hope, rather than having people narrowly focus on a problem. Of course, there are times when you do need to narrowly focus; the key is to maintain a balance.

Barbara Fredrickson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Positivity: The 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2012) and Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become (Hudson Street Press, 2013). She has twice been invited to share her findings with the Dalai Lama.

The Positivity Self-Test

How have you felt over the last 24 hours? Look back over the past day and using the 0-4 scale below, indicate the greatest amount that you’ve experienced each of the following feelings:

0 = not at all; 1 = a little bit; 2 = moderately; 3 = quite a bit; 4 = extremely

1. What is the most amused, fun-loving or silly you felt? ____

2. What is the most angry, irritated, or annoyed you felt? ____

3. What is the most ashamed, humiliated or disgraced you felt? ____

4. What is the most awe, wonder or amazement you felt? ____

5. What is the most contemptuous, scornful or disdainful you felt? ____

6. What is the most disgust, distaste or revulsion you felt? ____

7. What is the most embarrassed, self-conscious or blushing you felt? ____

8. What is the most grateful, appreciative or thankful you felt? ____

9. What is the most guilty, repentant or blameworthy you felt? ____

10. What is the most hate, distrust or suspicion you felt? ____

11. What is the most hopeful, optimistic or encouraged you felt? ____

12. What is the most inspired, uplifted or elevated you felt? ____

13. What is the most interested, alert or curious you felt? ____

14. What is the most joyful, glad or happy you felt? ____

15. What is the most love, closeness or trust you felt? ____

16. What is the most proud, confident or self-assured you felt? ____

17. What is the most sad, downhearted or unhappy you felt? ____

18. What is the most scared, fearful or afraid you felt? ____

19. What is the most serene, content or peaceful you felt? ____

20. What is the most stressed, nervous or overwhelmed you felt? ____


Go back and circle the 10 items that reflect positivity, and underline the 10 that reflect negativity.

Count the number of circled positivity items that you endorsed as ‘2’ or higher.

Count the number of underlined items that you endorsed as 1 or higher.

Calculate the ratio by dividing your positivity tally by your negativity tally.

The resulting number represents your positivity ratio for the day.

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