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Positivity (Part 1)

You might have noticed that I’ve reformatted my blog. How wonderful! A couple of my classes require blogging this semester. For one of them, we’ve been asked to write about something we are passionate about. I’ve been doing some introspection, and the central intersection of all of my interests is helping creative positive experiences for other people. Whether it’s through improving the hospital experience with UNC Dance Marathon, giving kids a week of fun and an oasis away from their parent’s cancer through Camp Kesem, or creating inspiration and joy through creative advertising, that is my goal. So I’d like to use this blog to focus on creating positive experiences.

In this introductory post, two parts, I’ll first talk about the background of positive psychology, and second talk about how my friends and I are celebrating every day. Let’s get to it!

I’m a Psychology and Advertising double major. I’ll be posting on this blog a good deal about advertising, because my Account Planning class requires it. I’d like to focus on psychology, specifically positive psychology, for a bit right now though (and realistically for the majority of these posts).

In the psychology major, when I’ve had the choice, I’ve taken courses focusing on social and cognitive psychology. A real interest of mine is in how people make decisions and how people relate to each other. That’s why I have my two majors. A lecture that has appeared in five of my psychology courses is one about positive psychology, specifically referencing the work by Barbara Fredrickson. Barbara Fredrickson is a Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (PEP Lab) at my school, UNC-Chapel Hill. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but the gist of what I’ve learned is that positivity broadens your scope of attention, and, by doing so, builds your personal resources such as knowledge and relationship building ability. The “broaden and build” theory says that people can initiate upward spirals (in contrast to downward spirals from negative self-concept) if they simply think in positive ways (1).

Dr. Fredrickson has written a book about it, called Positivity. In the book, she explores the 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts, and how it can change your life for the better. This is the ratio of positive thinking that triggers the upward spiral. I really encourage you to watch this series of three videos, in which Dr. Fredrickson explains the process:

The question becomes, what can I do with this information? Just exactly how do I use this positivity ratio to make my life, and the lives around me, better? Like Dr. Fredrickson said, the tipping point is when you have the ratio of at least 3 positive thoughts for every one negative thoughts. The goal isn’t to eradicate negative thoughts– they are necessary for making the sweet moments sweeter. Attempts to only be positive actually ends up being toxic. It leads to insincerity and frustration with imperfect moments. That might be frustrating to read, that you just trying to be positive can lead to a bad outcome. The key is to create a positive outlook, so that when you experience positive emotions, they flourish, and when you experience negative emotions, you know how to deal with them. Dr. Fredrickson says that the steps to creating a mindset of positivity are:

  1. Be open
  2. Be appreciative
  3. Be curious
  4. Be kind
  5. Be real

Logical, right? So much of positivity is simply being aware when good things are happening. Being open to current sources of goodness makes it much easier to appreciate them when they are happening. I’ll end with that thought for now, and pick up with it on my next post. In my next post, I’ll talk about my goals for positivity and how I see it.

(1) Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13(2), 172-175. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00431

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