by Javier Munoz
We have all met persons that seem to have the natural gift of living their life with rock solid positivism even when facing hardship. In fact, recent studies indicate that our capacity to be positive has a strong genetic component. However, Dr. Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, has found that we all have the ability of generating happiness emotions intentionally, which he calls Synthetic Happiness. What is remarkable is that Synthetic Happiness has the same physiological and neurological qualities as the sort of spontaneous natural happiness that could result from your genetics.
Therefore, we could conclude that even if your capacity of experiencing happiness is largely conditioned by genetics, if you practice happiness habits, you could intentionally generate the same benefits that you would get from natural happiness.
Then, to what degree can we can create a daily happiness habit? A recent article in Scientific American, talks about an investigation conducted by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt, suggesting that we normally have three times more positive experiences than negative ones on a daily basis. Coincidentally, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads us to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity reaching a sustainable positive attitude that enables us to achieve our goals. In fact, Dr. Fredrickson created a simple questionnaire to quickly calculate your Positivity Ratio. If your ratio is 3 or higher, you are likely to face life with positivism.
Before, we established that Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt, found that we generally experience three times more positive experiences than negative; therefore, we should all have a Positivity Ratio of 3 or higher. Then, what is the problem? Researchers have identified two factors that keep us from integrating all of our positive experiences:
(1) The Negativity Bias
(2) The Hedonic Adaptation
The Negativity Bias is the innate tendency of paying attention and giving more weight to negative experiences rather than positive ones. It appears that the Negativity Bias has primitive roots: Thousands of years ago humans had to be wary of threats to improve their chances of survival. The Negativity Bias was then a desirable trait that carried on successfully from generation to generation. Even today, this tendency could explain why the news tends to highlight negative events rather than positive.
However, the Negativity Bias is not serving us well any more. At a personal level and for society in general, we have more opportunities to breakthrough and thrive if we focus on and share our positive experiences. Many studies have shown that sharing positive experiences with others is one of the key factors that drive our well-being.
On the other hand, Hedonic Adaptation, is the tendency to get used to either positive or negative experiences over time. We stop appreciating and take for granted our recurrent positive experiences, but by the same token, we also have the ability to overcome painful events.
Therefore, we could conclude, that we generally have 3 times more positive experiences than negative ones. The key is in being aware of it and build a habit of appreciating them as an integral part of our internal dialogue. That would be a key Happiness Habit.
Then, how can we strengthen our Happiness Habits?
It has been discovered that to stay happy on the long run, it is more effective to become aware of all the small but frequent positive experiences during the day than relying on large life-changing events that happen once in a while. When I say small and frequent experiences, I am talking about a heart felt hug from your children when you get home from work, appreciating the blooming beauty of nature in spring, enjoying your mother´s fantastic meat balls, or any small achievement at work. If you have a habit of not only integrating and appreciating these small experiences consciously, but also sharing them with friends and family, you will have double the benefit!