May 8, 2009

Review of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson

Review of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive by Barbara Fredrickson
Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and a pioneer of positive psychology, specializes in research on positive emotions and human flourishing. She is best-known for her so-called broaden-and build theory of positive emotions. This book describes in an accessible and captivating way what the research by her and her colleagues has taught her about what positivity is and what is does.
In her explanation of what positivity is, she mentions ten forms of positivity: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. As to what positivity does, maybe it is best to start with six facts she mentions about positivity: 1) positivity feels good, 2) positivity changes how your mind works, 3) positivity transforms your future, 4) positivity puts the brakes on negativity, 5) positivity obeys a tipping point, 6) you can increase your positivity. A briefer way of describing what positivity amounts to is that it opens your mind and helps you get on a positive trajectory, an upward spiral. In other words: it makes you flourish. Flourishing is more than being happy. In Barbara Frederickson's words: "Flourishing goes beyond happiness, or satisfaction with life. True, people who flourish are happy. But that's not the half of it. Beyond feeling good, they're also doing good -adding value to the world. People who flourish are highly engaged with their families, work, and communities."
But that is not the whole story. The effects of positivity are not simple and linear. Rather, they are subtle and non-linear. Human flourishing works like a nonlinear dynamic system. In nonlinear systems, there are one or more tipping points at which the properties of the system can suddenly change dramatically. An example of such a non-linear system with a tipping point is how ice melts at zero degrees Celsius. Consultant and researcher Marcial Losada has helped Barbara Fredrickson uncover a tipping point in the positivity ratio. The positivity ratio is the ratio of people's experiences of positive to negative emotions. Fredrickson's and Losada's research show that there is a tipping point above which flourishing starts and below which it doesn't. This positivity ratio tipping point is 3-1. When there are three times or more as many positive experiences than negative ones, flourishing will start with all of its beneficial consequences. There also turns out to be a second tipping point, by the way, of 11-1, which is the upper bound of flourishing. Above this upper bound it seems that there is too much positivity. In other words, there will always remain a useful role for some negativity. Fredrickson has found that most people have more positive than negative experiences but are below the 3-1 tipping point. Fortunately, there are many known ways to raise your positivity (many of them are described in the book) so that flourishing is attainable for anyone.
I can hardly say how impressed I am with this book. This book presents the best that positive psychology has to offer. The writing is very clear and pleasant. At the same time, everything that is written is linked to scientific findings (which are mentioned explicitly). My suggestion is: do yourself a favor and buy yourself this book.
Also read: Flourishing


  1. Hi Coert,
    Thanks for the review, I've been impressed by Fredricksons research for several years, since Carey Glass poited it out for me. It fits very well with my evolutionary darwinian/damasian view of emotions as behavioral/neural/physiological progams/configurations. I'll pick up the book. Meanwhile, Im reading Lyobomarky, which is ok so far, but not stunning.

    What is stunning, however, is the latest stuff by Gilbert/Wilson on "the pleasures of uncertantainty". A video-lecture here
    and one the papers is here:,wilson&gilbert.emotion.2009.pdf

    This is HOT stuff, that blows the cudly positive

  2. my pleasure,
    I'll write you one of these days to get you feedback about some ideas i have about what all these results in positive psychology, flourishing, "neural buddism", growth mindset, etc are poiting points to. Strangly, it pulls one leg of SF, and it pulls one leg of CBT. What now...? (more later...)

  3. I am looking forward to hearing your comments too, Michael!
    Thanks for the links!


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