Love is … . From that sentence stub, poets, philosophers, and psychologists have taken flight. Now, Barbara Fredrickson gives us a new angle on love in her book Positivity. Our readers are likely familiar with Dr. Fredrickson’s “Broaden and Build” theory of positive emotions: While experiencing positive emotions, we broaden our thought/action repertoires and build physical, psychological, and social resources for the future. In Positivity, Dr Fredrickson explains this theory, summarizes some of the research that has failed to falsify it, and also describes the 3:1 minimum ratio for flourishing established by Marcial Losada’s mathematics and empirically verified by her data.
She also discusses the 10 positive emotions that her research subjects have recounted as most common and most powerful in their lives. Love, while most common and most powerful, is listed last — and it has to be. Let’s look at the other nine positive emotions first in order to understand the positioning of love, and also Dr. Fredrickson’s explanation of what love is.
Here’s a short description and a picture for each of the first nine positive emotions. Click on the pictures to see larger versions –they are wonderful!
|Experience:||Things going your way, even better than expected|
|Experience:||Recipient of a gift — from another, from God, or from the universe|
Serenity (content, peaceful)
|Experience:||Low effort, relaxed, all is right with the world|
|Context:||Safe, but with something new|
|Experience:||Attracted, fascinated, engaged|
|Context:||Facing threats or challenges|
|Experience:||Personal credit, valued by others|
|Feeling:||Upright (stand tall)|
|Action:||Dream and persist|
|Context:||Safe, usually social|
|Experience:||Safe, nonserious social incongruity, surprise|
|Experience:||Human nature at its very best|
|Action:||Step beyond yourself, give, excel|
|Experience:||Goodness or greatness on a grand scale (nature, art, achievement) (can mix with fear)|
|Feeling:||Part of something greater|
|Action:||Challenged to accept, accomodate; can emotionally bind to charismatic leader|
Love (closeness, trust, connection) Dr Fredrickson suggests, is momentary surges of all of the preceeding positive emotions within a safe relationship. This can be an intimate, romantic, familial relationship. But it can also be a friendship, team, or group of colleagues. The degree of closeness, openness, and intimacy varies, but the nature of this positive emotion is a higher-order melding of other positive emotions and a relationship, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Love makes us feel warm, affirmed and affirming, and we act by getting closer.
You may have noticed that I have not presented a picture for love. I have one. I selected it in the same way as the ones above, by searching for photos on flickr with a Creative Commons license allowing commercial use (with the exception of the Mona Lisa picture). I found these pictures to go with a CLE presentation I was recording for use in a program that would have a moderator, but with me not present. So, I have not gotten feedback yet. I like the picture I selected for love, but (1) I have some questions about my choice and (2) I would like to see what images speak to you of Dr. Fredrickson’s explanation of love.
So, here’s a challenge for readers. Find a picture that you think captures this meaning of love, or find one that really represents one of the other positive emotions, and post the links in the comments. I enjoyed looking for pictures to capture what these emotions meant to me, so I hope you will. In addition, I suspect we will all benefit from seeing each other’s selections. So, good hunting!
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive . New York: Crown.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press. (Added later)