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Positive Emotions Allow You to Flourish

positivity-ratioOne of the great opportunities my career has afforded me is the opportunity to be faculty member for several leadership programs. I’ve had an ongoing appointment with several such programs, and am piloting two new programs this fall. I read and refer to a lot of tried-and-true leadership literature as I’m designing curriculum. Over time I’ve had “favorite” concepts to incorporate into my design, such a power and influence or Emotional Intelligence. My favorite topic in this design cycle is positivity.

My interest in positivity isn’t new. I first started thinking specifically about the power of positivity in the late 1990’s, when positive psychology and positive organizational development really took off as fields of research and practice. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and so could appreciate the shift in research emphasis—from diagnosing and “fixing” what’s wrong to identifying and leveraging what’s right, in a person or in an organization. As a consultant, I have many more options for helping people and organizations reach maximum effectiveness if we begin with an assumption of abundance rather than scarcity. I have therefore built my professional practice around this assumption, and it has yielded positive results for me and for my clients.

Since the 1990’s a lot of new studies have been conducted and research made available that confirms my anecdotal evidence about the power of positivity. I share some highlights here, specifically from the work of Barbara Frederickson, which you might find useful in your own leadership development journey, or leadership role within an organization.


1. Positivity is the key ingredient for flourishing. Its absence can lead to languishing. Flourishing and languishing aren’t just my gut assumptions. There are  years and years’ worth of scientific data, collected separately by different researchers and using various methods, that have arrived at the same conclusion. It’s also been proven that flourishing and languishing associated with one’s propensity for positive versus negative emotions applies to individuals and groups, such as work teams.

2. Positivity is different, and more specific, than happiness. The emotions included in the positivity spectrum include:

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love

Each of the above emotions should be explored and experienced with as much regularity as possible, which creates upward spiral trends in our emotions. The goal is a 3:1 ratio, positive to negative emotions.

upward spiral

3. Why is positivity important? It has been scientifically proven to a) broaden—open up our thinking about an experience, and b) build, create a foundation upon which new ideas and relationships can be born. Further, people with high positivity ratios are found to be more resilient during tough times.


Action Take-Away: It’s possible to increase your positivity ratio and create upward spirals in your own life and allowing you to flourish—have breakthrough experiences that otherwise would have not been available to you. Techniques for increasing your positivity ratio include:

  • Be more aware of the various positive emotions and consciously tapping into them as much as possible—especially love.
  • Learn to meditate,  practice yoga or keep a reflection journal.
  • Slow down, shift your environment, get in touch with nature (being outside, especially during good weather, has been found to have a positive effect on human’s emotions).
  • Surround yourself with people you love as often as possible.
  • Focus externally—happiness cannot be directly pursued, it must ensue as an outcome of a meaning-filled life. Focus on others and the good you can bring them, with a genuinely open heart, and you will flourish.

For more ideas on how to increase your positivity ratio read Positivity by Barbara Frederickson. Most importantly, remember that your emotions can be managed. You have the ability to flourish.


DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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