Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program and the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association Kenan-Flagler School of Business
>> Welcome back.
This week we'll discuss how best to pursue happiness.
Whereas the pursuit of happiness is right up there with life and
liberty, as one of the foundational human rights, protected by the US Constitution,
for some people, knowing how to pursue happiness effectively,
remains a lifelong mystery.
Now, I've come to believe that a little knowledge of positive psychology can be
a dangerous thing.
People can in fact, bungle or mismanage their pursuit of happiness in multiple
ways, either by trying to banish all negativity, or force positivity.
Or by indulging too much in mere physical pleasures,
without enough emphasis on meaningful pursuits, or
on making contributions to others and the greater good.
So finding sustainable ways to be happy can be a real challenge.
Let's get started.
Okay, this week is all about the delicate art of pursuing happiness.
It's it's not as easy as it, as it may seem.
So, one of the first things I'd like to give y'all the experience of is just
taking a, a sample of what your last 24 hours were like.
So I want you to log on to do this short test of the,
all the emotions you've experienced in the last 24 hours.
And I invite you to consider your real day,
[LAUGH] not an idealized version of your day.
>> Mm-hm. >> Because it's,
it's any, like any self-diagnostic test.
The, the more honest you are with, with yourself as you create it, the better.
So let's take a moment to take this positivity self test.
So what was like to take this test?
Any, any surprises?
For me, I know my positivity ratio was much lower than I thought it would be.
If I was really honest about my day,
there was a moment where I was running where I thought someone was running at me.
>> Hm. >> [LAUGH] I
thought that's a little weird.
>> [LAUGH] >> I got uncertain news from
a letter from doctor that said you're high risk.
I'm thinking, what?
I'm not high risk.
You know, just things like that.
So there's ups, ups and downs in a day I think for me
I'm, I'm always surprised at how easy it is for
the ratio to be much lower than I expect it will be.
I don't know if anyone else had a similar experience.
>> Yeah, I think I know, notice the range of all of the different emotions I felt.
I kind of, as I was thinking about it, it's like wow I actually did feel a lot of
these different emotions where sometimes it's easy to just think, oh yeah,
I was, felt pretty good sometimes and I felt, mm, a little bad sometimes.
But the when I kind of, really thought about what were these specific emotions
and which ones I did feel and which ones I didn't feel, it was kind of enlightening
seeing the diversity of the whole range of emotions that I felt within 24 hours.
Any other reactions?
>> I was just thinking about the, the power of grief.
>> So, I lost a loved one, but also yesterday I had one of the best days.
I got some good news about some funding for research.
>> Yeah, yeah.
>> So it's amazing how that one,
that, it can be one event or one thing but it can just skew everything.
>> Yeah, yeah.
You know, we talked about the asymmetries between positive and
negative, that there's a negativity bias and a, a positivity offset or, or
most moments are somewhat positive.
Those asymmetries are built into this test, whereas a little bit
of negative emotion ends up counting as part of your, your negativity score here.
Whereas that same little bit of positive emotion,
to honor the asymmetry between them doesn't end up contributing to a tally.
The way I think of that is that if you're in a relationship either
with your best friend or your life partner and
you, you feel a little bit of gratitude towards them, that's kind of like nothing.
[LAUGH] You know, whereas if you feel a little bit of disgust towards them, whoa.
[LAUGH] That's, that's, that's powerful.
So, the, the, the dosages are different.
And so that dosage needs to be reflected in this short measure as well.
And that's sort of one of the reasons why it's kind of humbling to take this and
realize, oh the ratio is my positivity ratio is not, not particularly high.
So I wanted to share with you guys all the,
descriptively what we found to be the case with positivity ratios.
And that is that you know, for people who are really not doing well
maybe they're depressed or an, have an anxiety disorder or
something that is really you know, a mental health concern.
Their positivity ratios are typically less than 1-to1, okay.
And there's sort of, ordinary living you know, just sort of getting by not really,
not really having trouble in life but not really flourishing or being at one's best.
And that's sort of in this, you know north of 1-to-1,
about 2-to-1 that might be called sort of languishing.
What we find is that people who are flourishing in life,
doing really well, resilient to hard times, you know,
branching out learning new things, really generative.
They tend to be above 3-to-1, 4-to-1, 5-to-1 sort of,
in that kind of, sweet spot zone.
And I mean, one thing that's really important to recognize is that again,
taking this positivity ratio for just one day, this snapshot.
That's not diagnostic.
That's just one day.
And it's one day, well you're, you know, thinking about learning about
positive psychology, [LAUGH] so who knows if it's representative.
So what I usually recommend is that people take this measure every evening for
say a week or two.
And then look at the average across those and kind of,
make, make an assessment of where you think you're at based on based on that.
But that's descriptively, we found that
optimum mental health and compromised mental health show up in these ratios.
And that you know, actually the,
the demographics, at least in the United States, are that about 10
to 20% of US adults might be depressed at any given time or, or recently.
And about the same amount might be flourishing or doing really well.
And so that 10% to 20% on each tail that leaves like 60% in the middle.
And that's typically in this 2-to-1,
not quite up there with people who are doing really well flourishing ratios.
So that's just something that we've learned descriptively about these
positively ratios, so far.
Another thing that we've learned is that, you know, there
there are certain positivity ratios that seem to just simply not be high enough for
people to show those broaden and build benefits that we've been talking about.
And descriptively, in my research lab,
we've found that when people have positivity ratios that are over 3-to-1,
that they show this more broadening in their perspectives.
Better ability to take another person's perspectives or see themselves as sort of,
part of a we, as opposed to you know, just as me versus you.
So there's these elements of this broadened mindset that seem to
be much more descriptive of people's day to
day experiences when their ratios are higher than 3-to-1.
And, and are just less evident when people's ratios are, are, they,
they don't have to be down below 1-to-1 to,
to have, show an absence of this more characterological broadened mindset.
But again, there's a,
seems to be a benefit that goes along with surpassing the 3-to-1, 4-to-1 kind of,
5-to-1 zone, and that there's more of this broadened mindset.
We, we see the same thing in terms of, people's,
likelihood of building resources, showing changes in growth and resilience.
We see more of that when people are,
showing these ratios over the course of a month.
I mean, we measured people's emotions day in and day out for
a month and then calculated their ratios.
And those who, have the higher ratios, above 3-to-1 showed growth and resilience.
It's sort of like there's this now you see it and
now you don't effect going on for the effects of positive emotions.
And it's kind of vexing because you can describe to people you know,
here are the benefits of positive emotions.
But if their daily experience is not characterized by
very many positive emotions, then what you're describing isn't recognizable.
You know, it's kind of like positive emotions have these effects,
but it's kind of like we, you know, because of the negativity bias,
we have need to have this them band together kind of like a safety in numbers.
The positive emotions need to coalesce as a group in order to
really have their power.
They don't, they don't seem to, have the, the broadening and build, benefits so
much if, they're experienced in isolation, or too swamped, by the negativity.
>> Does, does the, does the intensity of the emotion matter?
>> You know, actually what we find in my lab and
in other labs, the intensity doesn't matter.
What matters is the frequency.
So it's just mild positive experiences, experienced frequently, is what matters.
So it doesn't, we don't have to be looking for
like the yoohoo, I just won the lottery.
[LAUGH] >> Right.
>> I can just be like, this moment of relaxation or
this connection or, or something.
So that's what we call,
sort of a now you see it now you don't effects of, of positivity.
There's also some interesting effects that occur with too much positivity.
And some researchers have looked at the connection between
creativity and positivity.
And they find that if people are exclusively positive
they're not particularly creative.
It's kind of like you need the, the irritation of a problem in there too,
to inspire in the inventiveness of, of creativity.
So, you know-
>> Just want to add that teaching entrepreneurship,
that's one of the most important principles that we teach.
We ask students to find their pain point, what bothers you.
People will respond to something that helps them improve their
situation or their lot.
So it starts in that pace, that place of where is the void.
>> Yeah. >> Where, where is the rub.
>> Right. >> So that makes sense.
>> Right, and so this, you know, the interesting thing is that this creativity,
resilience, flourishing, requires both negativity and positivity.
So, you know, you can really overdo it and have, you know,
think, oh, I can only, I should only feel good.
I need to banish the bad.
So this, the, the interesting thing about, the ratio concept is that,
you know, it's not, it's not like we need to be three, four,
five to zero, you know, it's three, four, five to one.
You know, and that one allows you to be human you know?
To, to, to kind of have the regular, you know,
negative reactions to day to day life.
and, and also it's not like people are going to be you know, in a constant state
of everyday is meeting this mark of this optimal ratio or, or so.
It's more like, you think of it as your, your diet over the course of a month or
>> You know, you don't have to make it all work within this hour, or this day.
But, you know, this season, this life.
You know, we should, there is more possibilities there.
There's also some interesting lessons to learn from bipolar disorder.
And there people do have excessive positivity but
it's, it's, it's interesting.
Not all positive emotions get out of whack with bipolar disorder.
It's particular ones that are self focused, contextually inappropriate,
you know, so emotions really are, are about reactions to circumstances.
And so sometimes people's positive emotions get kind of, unglued from
the situation and just kind of, you know, paste it into every situation.
So that's you know, contextually inappropriate but
the self-focused positive emotions like I want more of that,
a sort of a greed or pride or self-aggrandizement.
Those kind of things are what seem to get out of control in bipolar disorder.
There's, doesn't seem to be an excess of gratitude or connection or love.
I mean there, so it's a really particular kinds of positive emotions.
Kind of, a little bit maybe the acquisition, and
I did a good thing kind of things that, that come into play.
So one of the metaphors that I think is really useful here is like a,
a sailboat metaphor, is that in,
in flourishing in life you need both the positive and the negative.
And you can take on a sailboat the mast going up as the positivity and
the, the keel below the water line has the, has the negativity in it.
And if you sail you know that, you know, even though that it's the wind in
the sails that fuels the boat, you can't get sail without the keel.
You just, you know, wouldn't have any control over the boat you'd eventually,
probably flip over or turtle the boat or do something.
It's the neg, it's the, kind of the honest recognition of the negativity in
the situation that keeps us grounded in reality, in a way.
And so having that balance and that dynamic between positivity and
negativity is, is part of that,
that delicate art of pursuing happiness and, and flourishing, so.