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The Happiness Ratio


Happiness has a magic ratio!

Researchers independently discovered it requires five positive actions to neutralize  each negative one.

Barabara Fredrickson is a leading happiness researcher at the University of North Carolina specializing in deciphering the purpose of emotions in human evolution. The role of miserable feelings is so basic to the story of survival that without anxiety the human species would not have endured.

Anger and fear are the emotions driving the “fight or flight” reflex. Those of our ancestors who had the good sense to fight when angered and flee when afraid survived to pass on their genes. This explains why people today cling to unhappy thoughts. The human brain simply had to adapt to prefer negativity as the driver of behavior because no amount of loving will stop a predator in its tracks. The choices were to run or fight, and the consequences left a legacy today felt as the depression epidemic. Humans are simply hardwired to linger over negative events.

What role did positive emotions play in evolution? Why did they survive at all?

According to Fredrickson, positive feelings survived evolutionary pressure because they broaden our scope of attention, cognition and build intellectual as well as social resources. To test her thesis in contemporary settings, researchers simulated a “fight or flight” scenario in the dog-eat-dog world of competitive business. The investigators enlisted 60 business teams and observed the impact of positive and negative emotions as assessed by measures of work productivity. A key finding of the study is that the highest performing teams expressed positive emotions as compared to negative emotions in the ratio of 5.6 to 1.

Ratio Confirmed by Independent Research 

John Gottman is a marriage researcher specializing in couples’ dynamics. In observational studies spanning decades and thousands of couples, Gottman  carefully charted the amount of time couples spend fighting vs. interacting positively. He found that a very specific ratio exists between the amount of positivity and negativity required to make married life satisfying to both partners.

That ratio is 5 to 1. As long as there was five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there was negative, the marriage was likely to be stable over time. Further, it’s an urban myth that buying the occasional expensive piece of jewelry to ease ruffled feathers will hold marriages together. Gottman reports that it was the frequency of small positive acts that mattered most rather than the occasional big positive surprise or experience like a birthday bash.

Applying the Happiness Ratio

The defining lesson from the happiness ratio research is that the negativity bias can be overcome. Practically speaking, if individuals receive 5 times more positive reinforcement than they do negative debasement — then happiness will reign supreme.

Imagine for a moment a world in which every cell phone carried a Happiness Trainer application available at will to counteract every negative experience. You can help make that dream come true!

Support the Y55 Happiness Trainer project! The Happiness Trainer is a free download everyone in the world can access to get a dose of love and joy as needed. But your help is needed to finish building it. Please visit the Y55 Happiness Trainer project at our crowdfunding campaign site now!


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