check your positivity ratio

How’s Your Day?

Quick, off the top of your head: has it been a mostly positive day? Or a mostly negative one? If you’re like me, you may be surprised at the results. I was thinking I was having a pretty good day – finished off a project for a client, got to see both my grandsons, spent some quality time with loved ones, heck, it was even payday! So when I took the the positivity ratio test on Dr. Barbara Frederickson’s website, I figured it would be a cinch to have it be pretty good.

The test is not as simple as “good/bad”. Instead, she takes several feelings – anger, inspiration, humiliation, joy – and asks, for each one, to what degree you felt it. Not at all? A little bit? Extremely? It’s a nuanced overview that gives what she terms a positivity ratio.

Now, the first time I did it, I didn’t realize we were only talking one day. I was looking at life in general. And I ended up with a 1:1 ratio, where just as many good feelings were there as bad feelings. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? It didn’t feel accurate to me, though; I honestly feel that my life is pretty good right now, bordering on awesome.

Then I caught the fact that it was supposed to be for the last 24 hours. Aha! That made all the difference. I went back, re-did the whole questionnaire…and did twice as well! That is to say, I ended up with a ratio of 2:1, with twice as many positive feelings as negative.

The problem is, life apparently grades on a curve when it comes to happiness. According to Dr. Erickson’s research, I shouldn’t feel bad about my score, but:

…research indicates that a positivity ratio of 3 to 1 is a tipping point. This ratio divides those who merely get by in life from those who truly flourish. If you scored below 3-to-1, you’ve got plenty of company! With more than 80% of U.S. adults falling short of Positivity’s 3-to-1 prescription, there’s immense room for improvement in the ways many of us live.

Three-to-one. Looks like there’s a lot of room for improvement. Not so surprisingly, Dr. Erickson has a book in which she offers tools and strategies for improving your ratio. I’ve read her previous work, Love 2.0, and she’s got some good ideas. But you don’t necessarily need to read it to start improving things now.

Fortune Favors the Observant Mind

If you’ve never seen the lovely movie Stranger Than Fiction, you now have a solid recommendation for your holiday viewing. In one part the protagonist is trying to figure out whether he has a chance with his love interest, and being an accountant, he starts counting. He has a little book where he puts in “good” and “bad” checkmarks based on his interactions with her.

I won’t spoil the movie by telling you what happens, but as a methodology it’s a remarkably effective way to record your good and bad moments. If you want to get a bit more technological, there are even apps like Happier or Expereal (iPhone) or T2 Mood Tracker or iMood Journal (Android) that give you nifty interfaces. There’s nothing wrong with simply using a good old paper notebook (remember those Field Notes?) to keep track.

See, here’s the thing – while I can rely on the memory of the day to try and figure things out, data is much more reliable, and often much more surprising. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in these years of writing and researching and life hacking, it’s that there are an awful lot of things that we simply take for granted. When you shine the light of data on them, you often find out that the way you thought things were – such as quality of life – is not remotely the way things are.

If you want to change something – say, be happier – first you have to measure it. Personally I’m going with Expereal, because it’s a pretty interface. I’m going to give it a week, and next week I’ll publish the results here. Here’s the neat part: since the goal is to have more positive than negative, simply the act of observing is likely to change my life for the better.

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