Tag Archives: positivity ratio

Negative Media: Is it worth the cost?

Earthquakes!  Murder!  Genocide!  Environmental destruction!  Lions!  Tigers! Bears!  Oh, my!  The media – from news to television series to popular novels – often feeds us a continuous diet of violence, destruction and suffering.  What’s the effect of this?

Research has shown that the more television a person watches, the more violent they judge the world to be and the less happy they become.  News broadcasters are masters at pulling our emotional strings with stories of tragedy and violence that feed off our fears.  Novelists and movie-makers come up with some pretty outrageous ways people can treat one another (yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m talking about you!).  While this keeps us tuned in and buying tickets – it comes at a significant cost to our emotional well-being – that fear, sadness and anger really register in us and make it difficult to reach that 3:1 postivity ratio that can lead us to living a flourishing life.

Several years ago, I made the conscious decision to stop listening to NPR during my commute.  Instead of getting riled up about the most recent political decisions, I decided to listen to books about how to be happier in my life.  I kept up-to-date on the outside world from a 10-minute look at CNN.com each day where I could consciously decide which stories got my full attention.  My worry that I wouldn’t be as educated about the world was put aside when I saw the results of another set of studies: it turns out that people who watch less TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we all might encounter each day.   TV gives us a sensationalized and one-sided version of news that makes the world feel significantly less safe than it is.

And it’s not just about news.  Other forms of media – video games, movies and even fictional books – can have the same effect.  Personally, I saw my own negativity skyrocket this past spring when I got sucked into an epic fantasy series with grand battles of good vs. evil.  I was so engaged in the story that it started taking over my mindspace even when I wasn’t reading it.  I started blowing off my daily gratitude journaling and meditation to spend more time reading; I even rushed through story time with my kids to get to ‘my time’ with the books.  This constant feeding of conflict, narrow escapes and evil deeds kept me in an adrenaline-infused negative space.  And that leached into other areas of my life.  I started being more suspicious of everyone – empathy and kindness fading to distrust — and kept seeing what was likely to go wrong in every area of my life.  After about a month, my world view became bleak and I felt the fear of failure get a strong hold on me.   When I finished up the series, it took me a couple months to dig myself out of this negativity trap I’d fallen into.  That a series of fictional books was able to have such an effect on my real life was a shock.

This has been a difficult post for me to write.  I don’t like how preachy this topic sounds –”Halo is bad for you!” or “Watch less TV” – but our elders who tried to get us outside and doing anything more active were on to something.  We do take on the emotions of what media we consume – both real and fictional.  So if video games or tv is a good way for you to decompress, you don’t have to completely remove them from your life.  But notice how you really feel during and after these experiences and ask if it is how you want to spend your time.  If you are serious about upping your ratio, reducing violent media exposure is a relatively easy way to lower needless negativity.

Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as we talk about how to make long-term changes in your life – whether it’s starting an exercise routine, bringing on a gratitude practice or watching less tv.  I’ll be sharing scientifically proven ways to implement new habits into your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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A Positivity Ratio to Tip You to Flourishing?

Or “The Happiness Tipping Point”

NOTE:  The idea of Positivity Ratio of 3:1 as a magic gateway to flourishing was challenged in a 2013 American Psychologist article by Brown, Sokal and Friedman.  Losada, who managed the non-linear mathematical equations, was not able to mount a mathematical rebuttal to this critical review.   A response by Fredrickson in the same American Psychologist issue stepped away from the 3:1 ratio as a defining turning point.  However when looking at the raw data (and not the complex mathematics), Losada’s qualitative conclusions still show that higher numbers of positive interactions are associated with higher performing business teams.  And Fredrickson’s data (and many others) show that more experiences of positive emotions are associated with personal flourishing.  – Eric Karpinski, December, 2013

One thing that science has shown — and all of us have experienced — is that when we feel a positive emotion, it often leads to other positive emotions.  When we’re happy, we naturally focus on the good things in our lives and feel grateful for what we have, which further increases our happiness.  When happy, we approach other people with a smile and a sense of trust which makes them want to help us, and again our happiness increases.  This upward spiral of positive emotions can help us live the life we want.

Negative emotions follow a similar pattern.  We’ve all had experiences where a frustration at work causes self-doubt which leads to not doing our best.  Sometimes, we can bring this frustration home and overreact angrily to a family member or friend.  This can lead to guilt which further compounds our negative feelings.  Because negative emotions have a strong physiological component, these negativity spirals can knock us down for hours or even days.

Researchers have studied this interplay of positive and negative emotions and have recently discovered a tipping point in our emotional life.  A tipping point is a place where a small change can have a disproportionately large effect.  A good example of a tipping point is ice and water.  At -1ºC H20 is solid ice but raise the temperature just two degrees and it turns into flowing water.  In psychology this magic number is expressed as a positivity ratio — the number of positive emotions you feel over a given time divided by the number of negative emotions you feel in that same time period. This graph illustrates this idea:

Below 3:1 the effect of increases in positivity on our overall sense of well-being are relatively small.  Our positive emotions here are more fleeting and susceptible to being squashed by negative emotion.  But above 3:1, we’re in a world of many upward spirals that feed on each other and keep our overall happiness high.  Above this ratio, setbacks are easily dealt with or seen as longer-term challenges rather than insurmountable blocks to what we want.  In short, above 3:1, we enter what scientists call flourishing; a state of optimal human functioning that is marked by creativity, growth, productivity and resilience.

This 3:1 ratio was first discovered by Marcial Losada through an in-depth study of 60 business teams.  He and his assistants carefully observed and recorded each team in an hour-long business meeting and coded every single statement as positive or negative (among other dimensions).    Later he evaluated each team on profitability, customer satisfaction and evaluations by superiors/peers/subordinates.   Those teams that were independently shown to be high performing – highly profitable and well regarded by those with whom they did business — had positivity ratios around 6:1 (the number of positive to negative interactions in this case).  By contrast, low performing teams had positivity ratios well below 1:1 and mixed performance teams had ratios around 2:1.  Losada developed equations that modeled this nonlinear dynamic system and found that the tipping point that transformed a business team from middling to flourishing was 2.9013 : 1, which for simplicity we round to 3:1.

Losada joined with Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology, to evaluate this positivity ratio in individuals.  They conducted a series of analyses and found that this same 3:1 ratio is a tipping point that pushes individuals into flourishing.  They showed that people with ratios higher than 3:1 feel more alive, creative and resilient.  They have a palpable sense of personal growth and of making a positive difference.  Below 3:1, the people in these experiments are in a state of languishing where their life is rather ordinary. They get by, but are hardly growing and not moving toward what they want most in life.

The great news here is that most people have positivity ratios around 2:1, not far from the magical 3:1 number.  Using tested positive psychology tools and habits for increasing our share of positive emotions and decreasing gratuitous negativity, getting to a 3:1 ratio is feasible.  If you can increase your ratio, it will open you up to a flourishing, more engaged and happier existence. Stay tuned next week as I share one of the simplest and most powerful tool for increasing your happiness.

So, are you curious about your own positivity ratio?  You can test it on Fredrickson’s website, click on “Take the Test”.  Try it out for a few days and see where you are.   I tracked my own positivity ratio for several months earlier this year.  I found it to be a powerful way to bring more awareness to my day-to-day emotional state.

I also highly recommend Fredrickson’s book, Positivity.  It is full of the most recent and powerful science in positive psychology and it is presented in a warm and accessible way that non-scientists can understand.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach
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