Unpleasant emotions (anger, fear, sadness) outnumber pleasant ones (happiness) by a ratio of 3:1. Convincing empirical evidence indicates the evolutionary progression of our brain’s development trends negatively, suggesting that our reptilian brains were formed for the sole purpose of avoiding threats to survival, thus creating an inherent fight, flight, or freeze response. This unavoidable and integrated relationship with negativity has been with human beings ever since. As a result, we tend to view setbacks and difficulties as either a comment on our character, or as a problem to be fixed. Sound familiar? Interestingly, when viewed from this lens, very little ever really changes. We chastise ourselves, our mate, our children, or our organization for things we do not like, and lo and behold, years later, these same traits still exist. Why?
According to positive psychology, we need to view these beliefs and circumstances from the other side of the perceived lack. That is, by recognizing and utilizing our gifts and strengths to move forward in our lives, problems notwithstanding. Research on this approach is quite convincing. In fact, not only do positive interventions (see below) lead to increased happiness and well-being, the resulting positive emotions lead to future success. In fact, people in positive emotional states are more likely to take on challenges and to exert power and volition in the face of adversity. Consider the following theories, and try one or two of them on for size. I am willing to bet these strategies will change your perspective, and your sense of well-being:
- Remember past successes. Better known as mastery experiences, these remembrances create an increase in positive emotion, which results in an increased awareness of our personal resources. As a result, we transform ourselves into more creative, knowledgeable, and resilient individuals. According to Fredrickson (2006) this strategy creates an upward spiral of greater well-being, and greater expectations for the future. Take the emotion of joy, for example. When we are in a joyful state we are more prone to engage with others, take on new challenges, and take more risks. According to Fredrickson, we need a 3:1 positivity to negativity ratio in our thoughts in order for our lives to flourish. Those with the highest ratios were found to be” more open minded and flexible, with greater social resources, and better ability to overcome adversity. (Fredrickson, 2009)” You might try it with your spouse…your kids…your co-workers…your organization… and yourself! You might just like what you see, feel, hear, and experience!
- Try looking at difficulties and challenges not as problems to be fixed, but as opportunities for growth. According to researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck, we can either view challenges from a fixed mindset (that is, I am either good or bad, talented or not talented, accomplished or not accomplished…you get the idea) or from a growth mindset (that is, I see challenges as opportunities for growth regardless of where I am now). You probably recognize yourself in both categories, but if you are anything like me, recognize the fixed mindset a little more closely! The good news is that these perspectives are learned. To engage a growth mindset we might remind ourselves of earlier obstacles that we overcame, or wisdom that we gained through overcoming adversity (for example, resilience, hard work, and confidence). We might also remind ourselves that life is about growth, and give ourselves permission to be human. After-all, those with a growth mindset are happier, more accomplished, and have higher well-being than those in a fixed mode.
- Find gratitude for what you have. Gratitude leads to higher hope for the future, optimism, and feelings of satisfaction. So, count your blessing, mediate on three good things in your life, and/or visualize your best possible self as you consider how grateful you are.
When we consistently focus on any of the above strategies, we sustain lasting happiness and well-being. So, my challenge to you is to set some reachable goals, and place attention on these intentions. Good luck.