The Magic Ratio: 3 to 1

What are some examples of a positive emotion for you?

Examples include feelings of gratitude, of peacefulness, of love and connection.

[Positive emotions] literally change the boundaries of our minds and our hearts and change our outlook on our environment...[they] change the way our minds and our bodies work—change the very nature of who we are, down to our cells—transforming our outlook on life and our ability to confront challenges. Indeed, the science of positive emotions is key to helping people deal with adversity and live a meaningful life
- Barbara Frederickson

What does it feel like to be open?

One way to think about "being open" is that we are take in more of the context, that we block out less of what is going on around us.

What happens when you worry about the future? Regret the past?

Agitation due to worry and remorse is one of the Five Hindrances. While these can serve us, keep us safe or inspire us to made amends, they often run away with our heart and mind in an unhelpful way.

What is Job 1 for your brain?

To keep you breathing, keep your heart beating, all life support systems running well. This happens almost invisibly most of the time.

Imagine being your brain, trapped inside a skull, getting signals of all kinds from inside and outside the body, and trying to figure out what it all means and what should be done about it!

The Prediction Machine

Lisa Feldman Barrett's TED Talk

Click Transcript, scroll own to 3:34 in timeline, click time stamp to play.

What your brain is doing right now is comparing what it is seeing (including the current context) with everything it has ever experienced that is like this.

If it can't find a match, it keeps spinning: experiential blindness.

Your brain is a prediction machine. It's trying to guess what this is most like (not what it is) based on your past experience.

Emotions aren't built in, they're built

Feldman Barrett has done decades of research to show that we are born with very simple feelings (pleasant/unpleasant and calming/stimulating). The rest we learn as grow, from our culture, starting with our parents.

Emotions, like our attempts to figure out what the blobby image was, are also predictions. They're attempts to predict how what is happening now, including the context, is most like what has happened before. Hint: they're highly sensitive but don't always have great communication skills :-)

Positively Open

people are inescapably attuned to context when they’re experiencing positive emotions. They have a wider awareness, which may explain why people have a better memory for peripheral details when they’re remembering episodes that were positive
- Barbara Frederickson

So we are literally opening our view of the world, making it broader and more inclusive.

You Can't Teach An Old Cell New Tricks

scientists estimate that, on average, we replace one percent of our cells each day. That’s another one percent tomorrow, about 30 percent by next month, and by next season, 100 percent of our cells from today—that’s one way of looking at it. So maybe it’s no coincidence that it takes three months or so to learn a new habit or to make a lifestyle change; maybe we need to be teaching our new cells because we can’t teach an old cell new tricks.
- Barbara Frederickson

Frederickson turned to meditation to see how that practice might influence positive emotions, and use loving-kindness meditation (metta) with novice meditators. The results over eight weeks?

  • Daily levels of positive emotions subtly shifted upwards
  • Increased mindfulness, their ability to stay in the present moment and maintain awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and surroundings
  • Close relationships improved from the time they started learning meditation to a few weeks after the training ended
  • Resilience, their ability to bounce back from difficulties and effectively manage the challenges they encountered, improved
  • There was a reductions in aches and pains and other signs of physical illness.

You're Responsible

Feldman Barrett likes to say we are responsible for our emotions, not because we're to blame but because we are the only one who can make a difference.

What helps? Sleep, diet, exercise, relationships, absorbing novels, movies and other art forms, being in nature.

Both Frederickson and Feldman Barrett's research tells us that what we do today has a significant impact on how we experience the world tomorrow. Our emotional world is not hardwired and we can, with patience and practice, bring about a virtuous circle of change in our emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing.

What About That Ratio?

Research shows 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative is the tipping point.

Note this is not an attempt to "get rid of negative emotions" but to strive for a balance. All emotions are welcome (but some are more welcome, more often, than others :-)

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