Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Good Is Positivity?

Can books change people?

For years I've investigated the value of positive emotions - those pleasing yet fleeting moments of joy, serenity, gratitude, amusement, and the like. In controlled laboratory experiments, I've measured the effects of these states on people's thinking styles. In field studies, I've cataloged their effects on people's skills, traits, and well-being. What I've learned is that positive emotions carry far more benefits than most of us suspected.

I've encapsulate two classes of these benefits into my broaden-and-build theory. First, when we experience a positive emotion, our vision literally expands, allowing us to make creative connections, see our oneness with others, and face our problems with clear eyes (a.k.a. the broaden effect). Second, as we make a habit of seeking out these pleasing states, we change and grow, becoming better versions of ourselves, developing the tools we need to make the most out of life (the build effect). And strikingly, these twin benefits of positive emotions obey a tipping point: When positive emotions outnumber negative emotions by at least 3 to 1, these benefits accrue, yet below this same ratio, they don't.

Initially, I was drawn to study positive emotions simply because they were mysterious, largely uncharted scientific terrain. Yet when the 3-to-1 positivity ratio surfaced, my motives shifted. I realized that my life's work held precious life lessons. I began experimenting with ways to inject more positivity into my own day, and into my own family life. The results were eye-opening. I began to recognize hidden opportunities for serenity and playfulness each day. What I once deemed frivolous now nourished me. I felt buoyant and alive. And this new and positive energy infused my relationships at home, at work and beyond. I wrote Positivity to share what I've learned, both scientifically and personally, about the value of positive emotions.

A few weeks after the book release, I was invited to speak at The Regulator Bookshop in nearby Durham, North Carolina. After I made opening remarks and read a passage from my book, a gentleman raised his hand to say that six days after he starting reading Positivity, his friends and family started calling him "the new Jim." He acknowledged that he'd been rather curmudgeonly most of his life, and that learning about the science of positive emotions opened up new possibilities for him, possibilities that rippled through his web of family and friends. No, I hadn't paid him to say this - I'd never met Jim before, old or new. Yet his words touched my heart and reminded me why I wrote the book. I wrote it for the new Jim.

Did I mention that Jim is 88?

More from Barbara L Fredrickson Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today