Positive Emotions have been extensively studied by evolutionary psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. Their role in the lives of our ancestors, she argues, was one which fuelled survival.

The evolutionary benefits of negative emotions in evoking the ‘fight or flight’ response (and so preventing death by sabre toothed tiger) are widely known. However, the power of positive emotions to ‘calm and connect’, features much less in public awareness. As positive emotions fuel connections with others, they foster co-operation and interdependencies within social groups – vital for human survival.  So our capacity for positive emotions has been handed down to us via our genes through Darwinian natural selection.

Positive emotions act like ‘tiny engines’ for growth, broadening our awareness and building personal resources (see Broaden and Build).

Fredrickson highlights 10 positive emotions of joy, serenity, amusement, awe, pride, gratitude, interest, inspiration, hope, and love. She reasons that, as positive emotions are nourishing, consciously experiencing more of them on a daily basis can improve health and well-being. Extensive research has suggested that increasing instances of felt positive emotions, relative to negative emotions, above a ratio of 3:1 can predict a whole variety of psychological[1], psychosocial[2] and physiological benefits and increases individual’s self-reports of life satisfaction.

In 2005, Fredickson collaborated with Michal Losada[3] to mathematically calculate the tipping point of the positivity ratio as 2.9013:1 (i.e. 3:1), above which an individual is said to be flourishing and below which he/she is languishing. Although the robustness of this modelling has been called into question[4], behavioural research has continued to provide support for the 3:1 ratio[5], with 6:1 suggested as the ideal ratio to strive for.

Many positive psychology practitioners, including graduates of the MAPP programmes in the USA and UK have devised practical techniques for injecting  more positive emotions into everyday life – such as keeping a daily gratitude diary (Gratitude), identifying and using more of your signature strengths (Pride) (see VIA), and meditating (Serenity).

[1] Schwarz, R,M and Reynolds, C,F.(2002). Optimal and normal affect balance in psychotherapy of major depression. Evaluation of the balanced states of mind model. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 30, 439-50.

[2] Gottman, J.M and Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, Three Rivers Press.
[3] Fredrickson, B, and Lodsada, M., (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human functioning. American Psychologist, 60, 678-86.
[4] Brown, N.J.L, Sokal, A.D., and Friedman, H.L. (2013). The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: the critical positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68, 9, 801-813.
[5] Fredrickson, B.L.,  (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios. American Psychologist. 68, 9, 814-822.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

Nikki Ayles


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