What drives Positivity?

What drives Positivity? by Monica Siu


When it comes to positivity, people tends to mix up pleasure, positive emotion and happiness.   

Pleasure – is what we gain if we give our body what it needs right now.  You will gain pleasure while we are given food while being hungry, given water while being thirsty or a warm and cozy bed while being cold and sleepy.   In other words, pleasure tells us what our body needs physically now.

Positive emotions on the other hand, tells us what we need mentally and emotionally.  There are 10 positive emotions that are central to one’s sense of well-being, according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, they are Joy, Gratitude, Serenity, Interest, Hope, Pride, Amusement, Inspiration, Awe and Love.

Dr. Fredrickson found out that positive emotions have a ‘broaden-and-build’ effect on people.  It broadens our scope of attention, cognition, and actions.  When one’s cognitive scope is widened, this enables a broader exploration of the world and oneself more possible.   If positive emotion increases day by day, will drive one to

  1. Find more meaning and purpose in life
  2. receive more social support
  3. Be more attuned to the give and take of people
  4. Feel  Less pain\aches
  5. Attain mindful awareness of the present moment
  6. Foster more positive relations with others
  7. Feel more effective of what they do
  8. Savour the good things in your community
  9. See more possible solution to problems

In short, this broadening effects make people think broadly, deepen social bonds, enhance social skills and greater optimism (Fredrickson, 1998, 2003).  

Happiness is the outcome of many positive emotions which affects how we feel from day to day that build our resources and make a better version of self.   When we keep feeling happy, we are feeling satisfied with life and functioning well in it for example, learning, growing, make contribution to society.  This is a state of flourishing.  

If we want to help our coachee increase positivity and subsequently reach a state of flourishing through our coaching sessions, it is a good idea to know what the positivity ratio is and how to prioritize positivity.  

Based on Marcial Losada’s mathematical model of group behavior, Crucial Tipping Point for flourishment is 3 (positive emotion) to 1 (negative emotion).    Teams above this ratio exhibited better connectivity whereas teams below this ratio exhibited limited performance.  This is what we called the 3-to-1 Positivity Ratio.  This is a mathematical counterpart of Fredrickson’s ‘broaden-and’\-build’ theory.  Highly performing Team (HPT, with ratio over 3-to-1) exhibited greater openness to new ideas (i.e. broadening), and more connectivity between team members, success and greater resiliency (i.e. building of social resources).    Highly flourishing and resilient people has ratio like 4-to-1 to 5-to-1.    This provides a very important avenue of practical strategies to increase positivity.  

The research shows that frequency, rather than intensity, of emotion matters.   So more frequent but mild emotion helps uplift the spirit of a person than infrequent but more intense emotion.     On the other hand, being too positive may bring down the power of creativity because creativity needs a problem and then work on it.  In short, creativity, resilience, flourishing requires both negativity and positivity.

One of the tools to increase positivity is to prioritize circumstances that lead people to experience more positive emotions every day which is called   Prioritizing Positivity by Dr. Frederick.  For example, to be more flourishing, one can set priority to experience happiness in everyday life.    If one sets aside some small amount of time inside and outside of work to do something that makes him feel positive, this helps keep his positivity steady day by day.  

When it comes to which masteries promote both positive emotions and subsequently sense of happiness in a coaching conversation, IAC Coaching Masteries® #1, #2, #8 and #9 count.    If one feels unsafe and insecure, one will have far fewer positive emotion.  So establishing and maintaining a relationship of trust is always fundamental in a coaching conversation.     IAC Coaching Masteries®  #2 encourages or empowers the coachee through, for example, reminding the coachee of his or her capabilities, strengths, talents, knowledge and experience.  Positive emotion like hope, pride, and inspiration will be created subsequently.  When 3-to-1 Positivity Ratio is reached or exceeded in a coaching conversation, the coachee will further open up and become even more forthcoming.   This drives coachee to explore and discover more possibilities (IAC Coaching Masteries® #8), be it the coachee’s internal possibilities (for example, personal greatness, higher purpose) or external possibilities (for example, resources and memes).  To prioritize positivity day by day, IAC Coaching Masteries®  #9 helps coachee build or utilize more effectively the supportive systems and structures, and gain more positive emotions along the road while moving towards his\her goal.    

Fellow coaches, any more mastery or comment you would like to add?   I encourage you to share your opinion and we all discuss and develop together.

Reference: Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Three Rivers Press

VOICE_bio_imagesMonicaSui.pngMonica Siu: 

Executive and Career Coach, Column Writer, and Facilitator

President of IAC Hong Kong Chapter,

Master Masteries Coach, MBA, BA (Hons).

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