Flourishing is not dependent on the weather, the current political environment, or one’s wealth and status. Flourishing isn’t dependent on any external factors at all. Aiming for a ratio of 3 positive experiences to 1 negative experience is the path to flourishing and for effectively dealing with whatever comes our way.TheExceleratedLife.com
The Covid-19 pandemic. Unemployment. The economy in shambles. Increased violence. Injustice for many of our brothers and sisters. Leadership crises.
Some lucky souls are blessed with naturally sunny, positive dispositions. But what about the rest of us? Well, as William Arthur Ward stated, “Happiness is an inside job.” Research in the field of Positive Psychology has shown that we have a fairly large influence (about 40%) over our own level of happiness. That’s right. There are things you can do . . . today . . . that can measurably improve your feelings of contentment and gratification. Here are 5 suggestions, to get you started.
1. Be the Observer.
Obviously, not everything that happens to us is a positive experience. People lose their jobs, people lose their homes. People lose loved ones. You are going to have negative feelings during these times. But you don’t have to give in to them. You are not your feelings. Be the observer. Observe the feelings, without making judgments. Don’t resist what is happening. It is what it is. Observe it with an open and curious mind.
Recall the Stoic maxim: There are things we can control and there are things that are outside our ability to directly control. The wise person knows which things are under her control and focuses her efforts on those. And lets the rest go.
2. Nurture relationships.
According to Susan Lyubomirsky, author of The How Of Happiness, the cause and effect between social relationships and happiness go both ways. That is, happiness leads to better relationships and good relationships lead to increased happiness. [Lyubomirsky] One way to invest in better relationships is to make time for them. Brian Tracy says “Children spell love t-i-m-e.” Commit to spending more time with your family, friends, and loved ones, and watch your feelings of happiness rise.
3. Pursue meaningful goals.
Most of us have been brought up to believe in the importance of goals, that goals are necessary to achieving success. But, while working toward a worthy goal can increase happiness, some goals actually decrease happiness. There are 3 aspects of goal setting that can either add to or detract from your happiness level: goal orientation, goal content, and goal motivation.
Orientation: When possible, choose Approach goals (working toward a positive outcome) over Avoidant goals (avoiding a negative outcome). Sometimes the same goal can be either orientation, depending on how the goal is stated. For example:
Approach goal: To eat healthily and be physically fit.
Avoidant goal: To keep from getting fat.
Approach goals promote well-being; avoidant goals can detract from happiness.
Content: Goals related to intimacy, spirituality, and generativity* lead to happiness; power themed goals do not.
(*concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of future generations through involvement in creative contributions that aim to leave a positive legacy of the self for the future.)
Motivation: Intrinsic goals are inherently satisfying and meaningful to you. These lead to a larger payoff in terms of happiness. Extrinsic goals involve pursuing what other people or society approve of or deem desirable. These have been shown to be frequently accompanied by anxiety and interpersonal problems.
4. Buy experiences rather than stuff.
A study released a few years ago from San Francisco State University shows that most of us enjoy and are enlivened by doing things more than by purchasing things. According to the research, money spent on things such as theatre tickets, trips, or enjoyable dining brings more pleasure than money spent on jewelry, clothes, or electronics
5. Practice religion and spirituality.
For many years, science and religion did not mix. Actually, they cannot mix . . . it is impossible (at least in our current state of evolution) to empirically prove or disprove God. However, there have been a number of studies into the consequences of having religious beliefs, participating in religious life, or seeking after the sacred, and a growing body of research indicates that religious people are happier, healthier, and more resilient than non-religious people. Practices that have been shown to be effective include: seeking meaning and purpose in life, praying, meditating, and finding the sacred in everyday life.
Moving Beyond Your “Happiness Setpoint”
Studies in Positive Psychology show that we each have a happiness “setpoint” and we tend to find that level of happiness. For some of us, the setpoint is higher than for others, so the overall level of happiness tends to be higher.
But research also shows that there are voluntary factors that contribute to happiness. These voluntary factors may account for up to as much as 40% of our happiness level. That means nearly 1/2 of your overall happiness is under your control, regardless of circumstances. Even in the face of all the bad news to which we are subjected daily, it is possible to create a fulfilling, rewarding life of joy and contentment.
Does this mean that “staying positive” will make the tough things we have to deal with go away? Of course not. This isn’t about “positive thinking”. But improving your positivity ratio (positive to negative experiences) can broaden your perspective [Fredrickson] such that you see more ways to deal with the situation. And it can improve your resilience, helping you to bounce back from adversity quicker and higher. Aim for 3 positive experiences to every 1 negative. [Fredrickson]. As Barbara Fredrickson writes, people with this 3:1 ratio are “not simply people who feel good. Flourishing goes beyond happiness . . .” [Fredrickson]
The Route To Flourishing
Instead of getting down in the dumps, we are able to do good, to overcome, or at least, mitigate the ill effects of those things I listed at the beginning, and more. So try one or more of the suggestions listed above. Aim for the 3:1 positivity to negativity ratio. That is the route to flourishing. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Positivity™ — building the skills in positivity that help you flourish — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service.
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007