Thursday, August 8, 2013


I have just returned from spending a week in a delightful cabin up in the mountains near the South Carolina line. This trip was occasioned by the need to work out the final details of buying our new house. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to read the material I brought along, so I went looking for something a little lighter in the book selection provided by the owners of the cabin. I found a book entitled Positivity written by Barbara Fredrickson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a well known researcher in the area of positive psychology, the study of what works rather than traditional psychology that studies pathologies, what doesn’t work. While this book is written for a popular audience, it is properly footnoted, referencing other scholarly work by recognized authors.

The author explores a rather obvious question. Are successful people happy because they are successful or are they successful because they are happy? The answer is both propositions are true. People who exhibit positive emotions at a ratio of 3 to 1 when compared to negative emotions are far more likely to achieve success in their chosen field than us more normal folks who are likely to average a 1 to 1 ratio, or worse.

If you want to improve the quality of your life generally, cultivate, meditate upon things that increase these emotions for YOU in YOUR LIFE. Obviously, what would generate these emotions are to some degree specific to you as an individual.

Interest (curiosity)

One of Frederickson’s collaborators, Marcial Losada, former director of the Center for Advanced Research (CFAR) in Ann Arbor, a psychological researcher who has spent his career specializing in the study of high performance teams has found the same “positivity ratio” separates average or below average teams from the top quintile. In fact, he has found the exact ratio is 2.901311 to 1. In teams the questions that separate high performing teams from the run of the mill are a little different than those that define individual performance.

Positive/Negative Contributions
Other Focused (the customer’s agenda)/Self Focused (your agenda)
Inquiry (not knowing the “right” answer)/Advocacy (defending “the truth”)

At 3:1, the positivity ratio begins to produce non-linear results. Small increases produce surprisingly large improvements in measurable performance standards. This continues to be true up to ratios of 6:1 in groups. However, at some point, too much positivity does not improve performance. Losada and Frederickson compare this to the design of a traditional mono-hull sailboat. They have discovered that the ratio of mast height to keel depth is, you guessed it, 3:1. If a vessel has too much sail and not enough keel it will be difficult to control and will be more likely to capsize in a storm. There is a time for negative contributions. Not every proposition generated by a brain storming session is going to be a good idea. If you are not focused to some degree on your own agenda, your company is not likely to stay in business very long. There is a time when the amount of inquiry needs to contract. At some point the group needs to focus on implementing the plan rather than continuing to explore possible options.

If you want to be more successful, if you want to be more resilient, better able to overcome the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life spend some time exploring what make you happy, really happy, then cultivate those experiences and memories that bring you closer to peace, joy, and righteousness. At 3:1 the data suggests you just might trigger a virtuous cycle that will send your life into another dimension of success and happiness, no matter whatever those two words might mean to you.

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