Emotion gives you the energy you need to take action. The stronger your feelings, the more “moved” you are by your emotions. You can get carried away by negative emotions, such as sorrow or anger. Or you can be swept away by positive feelings, as happens when you’re in love.
Imagine sailing through life spending most of your time riding on waves of positive emotion, rather than struggling against the rip current of negative feelings. You’d have a happier life. Positive psychology studies show that people are happy when they’re able to generate a minimum of 3 positive emotions for every negative feeling they experience.
Individuals who are just getting along in life haven’t learned how to produce enough positive outcomes to offset the inevitable stressful events that occur. People who are primarily unhappy haven’t learned how to control their negative reactions, making it difficult for them to contain bad experiences and go onto creating good outcomes.
In contrast, happy people have learned to allow their reactions to distressing experiences to be transformed into positive actions rather than ruminating on what’s wrong. That enables them to focus 75% of their time and attention on activities that produce success and satisfaction.
The more skilled people become at producing a high ratio of positive to negative emotions, the more confidence they have in themselves and their capability to engage in great personal and professional relationships. The research also reveals that people above the 3:1 threshold share several other qualities:
- Improved problem solving and decision making
- Enhanced memory, creativity, and concentration
- Better immune systems and longevity
We all must contend with bad feelings. But if your positive to negative emotional ratio is below 3:1 for an extended period of time, you are likely to suffer severe consequences:
- Indecisiveness and inability to think clearly
- Impaired communication with others
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
Many individuals allow their feelings to happen to them rather than choosing which emotions will predominate. They feel other people are responsible for making them angry or hurting their feelings.
The problem with this approach is that – left unchecked – negative reactions will engulf you. Happy people know that negative feelings can be controlled and positive emotions must be created. They take responsibility for dissipating their negative reactions, and making choices to proactively pursue positive outcomes.
You can keep yourself above the 3:1 threshold by utilizing five steps when negatives threaten to outweigh positives in your life:
1. Take a timeout when you recognize that your negative emotions are flooding your mind and body. Depending on the extent of your reaction, you’ll need up to 30 minutes for the stress chemicals to subside so you can think clearly.
2. Next, use this time to redirect your attention to your breathing. Imagine that cleansing breaths are flowing into your abdomen and out from your heart. Breathe slowly, counting to 5 as you inhale as well as exhale. Continue this deep, rhythmic breathing until you feel your body calming down.
3. After soothing your body, you will be able to activate your positive emotions. You can start the process by thinking about someone you love, someplace you like to be, or something in your life that makes you happy.
As good feelings emerge, it’s essential to amplify them by “dwelling” on a positive part of your life. If, for example, you think about coming home to your dog, allow the wave of good feelings to wash over you as you imagine petting your pup.
4. Once you’ve successfully shifted your emotional state, you’ll have access to higher levels of brain power. You’ll be able to think about how to handle the issue that’s distressing you in a constructive manner. Figure out a specific action that YOU can take to improve the situation in a way that resolves the problem and restores a positive relationship.
5. After you’ve taken action, pay close attention to the progress you’re making in producing a positive feeling within yourself by becoming proactive. Notice the incremental improvements in the actual situation as a result of your actions. Rejoice in any positive response you receive from others who are also involved. Provide plenty of positive reinforcement for their efforts to join with you in creating a good outcome.
Happy people devote 75% of their time generating positive experiences and 25% of their attention to managing their negative reactions to stressful events. Polls indicate that only about one person in 3 achieves this level of happiness. Are you one of them?