BOOK REVIEW: Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive by Barbara Fredrickson (New York: Crown, 2009).
Positivity and Butterflies
How well I remember a time years ago when a dear friend and colleague had read an academic paper by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and Dr. Marcial Losada. My friend raved about the exploration of non-linear dynamics – the ratios, the correlations and a butterfly.
While I understood my friend’s passion for numbers, I wondered what on earth a butterfly might have to do with positive psychology, let alone how it might apply to my primary interest area, the workplace.
Little did I know!
As I opened Barbara Fredrickson’s new book Positivity, I did so with some trepidation. I’m sometimes saddened by the thought of boiling the good life down to the confines of a mathematical model. Would I need my step-son, the math whiz, to help me interpret images and models to understand how to apply the material in practical ways?
What Is New? The Answer May Surprise You
I am a long-time student of positive psychology. For 5 or 6 years, I’ve worked with a group of like-minded professionals on taking these concepts “out of the lab” and developing applications for people in the workplace in particular. I’m always on the lookout for “what’s new.” So I wondered what this book would say about positive emotions that I hadn’t already encountered.
The mistake – my mistake – was in my determination to find “something new” – an expose of significant outcomes as yet not made public or further nuggets of evidence for me to use to convince my clients. Other than the newly released “Open Heart Study,” much of the evidence was familiar to me. But it is a blessing to have so much research described in one place, a reference source as I provide proof to colleagues and friends. Thank you, Barbara!What is new is Barbara Fredrickson’s style, her humanity.
I’d like to suggest that this book is not so much about the study of positive emotions as it is a treatise on self-awareness and the value of mindfulness. It’s about practical ways to gain greater consciousness of the joy already in our world and our own being.
In a world where so many of us bulldoze our way through life more focused on the doing than the being, Fredrickson speaks eloquently to the need for greater self-awareness, and she does this in such an open, honest, and appealing way that one can’t help wanting to be more sensitive – to oneself, and to others.
It was when I stopped looking for the “new” in the content and took time to play with Fredrickson’s concepts and processes that I began to really enjoy this book and savor each experience.
(Where do butterflies come in? Read the book to find out.)
Research and Application
This is certainly a both/and book. It provides the evidence required of scientific study, and it also clearly outlines a practical and meaningful way forward for those interested in the best of life for ourselves and others. Just as Fredrickson suggests, positivity helps us learn to see new possibilities, bounce back from setbacks, connect with others, and become the best version of ourselves.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to write about this wonderful book. I know that I’m already reaping real-time rewards – after only one read-through. Might it be the same for you?
The 10 forms of positivity described in the book are joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. Additionally, Fredrickson provides a place online for people to test their own positivity: www.PositivityRatio.com. Some core messages about positivity:
- positivity feels good
- positivity changes how your mind works
- positivity transforms your future
- positivity puts the brakes on negativity
- positivity obeys a tipping point (“Losada Zone” described here on PPND by Dr. Marcial Losada)
- and best of all, you can increase your own positivity
Positivity is a way of seeing and being in the world. It opens our minds, puts us on upward spirals, and enables us to flourish. Beyond happiness and life satisfaction, flourishing is where we can both be our best and do our best – thus adding value to the world.
Positivity, the book, shows us how.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Most of Dr. Fredrickson’s research papers are available from the Web site of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab (PEPLab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Red-spotted purple — the butterfly picture used with permission from Edward Britton
I too am a long term student of positive psychology. I share your initial concerns about the book. I am reading it as I write and find it a treasure trove of validating information–that we know intuitively, yet question due to our shared cultural perspectives.