On the Golden Positivity Ratio

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Courtesy of Bryan Jorgensen, Las Vegas, NV, 2016

NaBloPoMo 2016, Letters to Patients, Day 25

To Patients Seeking Positivity:

Aim for the Golden Ratio!

As many of you know, I have recently undertaken to re-evaluate my Facebook usage.  Not long after I established my account c.2008, I decided to make my page a monument to positivity.  I realized that after I die, it would be the most visible and accessible legacy I leave, and I have total control over what I post.  I minimized complaining and ranting, and when frustrated I would try to write with an attitude of learning, of moving forward.  Lately I tend to leave off the latter.

Somewhere along the way, I think over the past year, but I’m not sure, pessimism and cynicism snuck in, no doubt related to politics.  The layers of consciousness infiltrated by the negative campaigning this time around extend deeper than any other election cycle in my memory—but maybe I just don’t remember.  I think humans have evolved to forget pain as a survival mechanism.  If women remembered all the pain and anxiety of pregnancy, delivery, and caring for a newborn, we would never do it more than once, are you kidding me?

I used to review my Facebook posts and feel elevated.  Today they often bring me down; it feels terrible.

Thankfully, I have some tools to resist the negativity.  I was reminded recently during my 3 Question Journal Shares with Donna over at A Year of Living Kindly.  I remembered something about healthy relationships maintaining a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions.  Turns out it’s actually 5:1, widely attributed to observations by Dr. John Gottman, renowned marriage and relationship psychologist.  I think the same thing applies in other realms, too, such as self-talk—a reflection of our relationship with ourselves.  It’s not a far leap to see how this idea pertains to news, social media, and any other human interactions.

Business researchers have discovered a 5.6:1 ideal ratio in highly functioning organizations, whereas low-performing teams’ ratio landed close to 0.3:1.

For more information on the science behind the theory (and motivation for practice), I highly recommend Positive Psychology in a Nutshell, by Ilona Boniwell.  For a brief overview, check out this PDF.  The book summarizes the origins of positive psychology as a field, and the research and wisdom of its study and application.  For example, psychologist Barbara Frederickson has described how positive emotions contribute to our personal growth and development (taken from Boniwell’s text):

  1. Positive emotions broaden our thought-action repertoires
  2. Positive emotions undo negative emotions
  3. Positive emotions enhance resilience

So hereafter, I will pay more attention.  I will likely continue to share articles that illuminate my concerns for the future.  But I will aim for the 5:1 positivity ratio.  Holy cow, can you imagine if that’s actually what we saw on the news and social media?  And why not aspire to 5:1 in my personal interactions, too?  That’s taking charge of my own happiness, yes.

5 thoughts on “On the Golden Positivity Ratio

  1. Great post Catherine. I wish we could make it illegal to interact with anything less than a five positive to one negative ratio. I still can’t do FB. I feel like it turned into a tsunami of negative energy, the wreckage of which is still sloshing around dangerously in the dirty water, and I won’t swim that sea anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Facebook is a dangerous place. I have come soooo close sooo many times to closing my account, but I don’t because of one interesting reason: my Japanese friends. As a result of being married to a lovely Japanese lady, I’ve come to know a good number of Japanese men and women, and we have become Facebook friends. Compared to the Americans I know, the Japanese are a million miles beyond in terms of positivity. Americans post hate–hate towards political stances, hate towards cultural difference, hate towards race, hate towards anything and everything. The Japanese post pictures of what they ate last night, flowers, temples, mountains, bicycle trips, snow…on and on.

    So your post is wonderful advice. I need to invest time and energy to understanding how to engage the 5:1 ratio into my own life in a meaningful way and thereby allow people such as you and my Japanese friends to be my guideposts as we plow on into the future.
    Thank you Catherine so much for the great advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Paul! If only we could all benefit more directly from international, inter-cultural perspectives. This 5:1 thing is a real challenge. Looking at my FB posts in the last couple of days, I’m definitely ranting less and avoiding posts of straight-up complaints. But I feel compelled to share articles that expose uncomfortable truths and that raise more questions than they answer. I guess they are not negative, per se, but are certainly not uplifting. So it’s a continuing practice. Gone are the food porn photos and sugary cooking videos, though–the uplifts are much more emotional than that now. It feels necessary to aim at our deeper sense of humanity now, more than ever.

      Liked by 1 person

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