Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Happiness: Normal People Need to Triple Their Positivity

If you’re the average person, researchers say you need to triple your positivity, for your own health and the health of those around you. This post shows why.

(This is part of a series on happiness: what it is, how it works, and where it comes from. Click here to start at the beginning.)

In my last post I described happiness as a “pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.” We described an optimal pace of good happenings, much like we pace out our showers (30 a month) and our meals (3-5 a day). If we only took one shower a month and ate one meal a day, we’d be off pace and unhealthy.

So what’s the pace of good happenings? The researchers say a healthy life begins when we’re experiencing at least six positive emotions for every negative one, and perhaps as high as eleven for optimal living.

  • One study recorded the conversations of sixty work teams as they built their strategic plans, recording team meetings and identifying the positive and negative phrasing in the conversations. Then they used business data to group each team into performance categories – low, medium, and high. The ratio of positive to negative conversations for high performance teams was just under six to one, while the medium-performance team was two to one, and the low-performance team was one to three.
  • University of Washington marriage researcher John Gottman measured the same “positivity ratios” in the conversations of married couples and became good enough to predict fifteen-year divorce rates with 94% accuracy in just a half hour of listening. He claims healthy couples have positivity ratios of five to one, where those on the way to divorce are at one to one.
  • Clinical psychologist Robert Schwartz studied depression recovery and positivity ratios, concluding that healthy ratios started at four to one, while “normal” people rate at two to one, and depressed people had ratios of one to one.

Keep in mind that these top ratios of four, five, and six to one don’t show the optimal positivity, but simply the entry point of healthy thinking. Researchers say that the optimal ratio is somewhere between six and eleven to one.

So if we take the conservative estimate, and say that healthy living starts at six to one, and that “normal” people are at two to one, and depressed people are at one to one, the average person is just above depression and one-third of the healthy balance.

That means the average person needs to triple their positivity to get healthy happiness.

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