The Science of Flourishing - It's in the Numbers

Want to flourish? Add one dash negative affect to one cup positive affect.

Posted Jun 07, 2013

So what is that magical ratio? At or above 3:1. Researchers Fredrickson and Losada tracked people’s daily experiences over the course of a month and found that people who are flourishing (as opposed to languishing) report experiencing at least three times as many positive emotions as negative emotions in their daily lives.

And that magic ratio it is not just for your personal well-being, Dr. Gottman found that stable, happy couples had about five times more positivity than negativity during conflict conversations (5:1). On the other hand, couples who were heading towards divorce had a ratio more like .8:1. That is, more negative than positive.

While some negative emotions should be avoided at all costs (see this post for a list of the four worst negative behaviors you can display in your relationship), other negative emotions such as guilt or sadness, when experienced in the appropriate setting, may be adaptive and help us change for the better. For example, feeling guilty when you’ve done something wrong can help you correct your behavior in the future and make the proper amends. Feeling sad about growing apart from a good friend may help you realize you still care about that relationship. In relationships, conflict can help you negate bad patterns and work through issues.

In addition, it seems to me that the good is not as good if you aren’t occasionally contrasting it with something bad. We need some emotional variety – feeling good all the time might just get boring! Moreover, people who are forcing themselves to feel positively all the time when it isn’t genuine may not reap the same benefits as those who are experiencing genuine positive emotions.

So what can you do to increase your ratio? Read these other posts for suggestions:

Be more gratefulPromote happiness in your relationshipFocus on approach goalsGet a petGet enough sleepFigure out what good feels like to youReappraise your negative emotionsBuy some happinessGive to others