Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive Hardcover – Jan 27 2009
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"Written by one of the most influential contributors to this new perspective in science, Positivity provides a wonderful synthesis of what positive psychology has accomplished in the first decade of its existence. It is full of deep insights about human behavior as well as useful suggestions for how to apply them in everyday life."
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., author of Flow
"Positivity is literally the feel-good book of the year, providing a scientifically sound prescription for joy, health, and creativity. Read one to two chapters daily as needed or until grumpiness subsides."
—Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
About the Author
BARBARA L. FREDRICKSON, PH.D., is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotion and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a leading scholar within social psychology, affective science, and positive psychology.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This book could be written by a junior high student. It's disorganized, repetitive, generic, uninspired, uninspiring, junk for someone with a required reading comprehension level of grade 3. Nothing profound, no good ideas are found, just obvious and contrived ones. The author patronizes any reader by stating boring advice as if it's profound.
I was going to donate this book to charity, but instead I recycled it so that no other human has to be insulted by it. I'm really upset money was wasted on such a pathetic waste of paper.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The strength of the book is in the early section, where the author explains her theory of positive and negative emotions, and describes her list of the 10 positive emotions that we would all benefit from having more of in our lives. Fredrickson asserts that negative emotions aid human survival by narrowing and limiting what we perceive as our range of actions, while positive emotions aid survival by "broadening and building" our options for actions. For example, the negative emotion of "fear" of, say, a predator, limits our idea of possible actions to "run for your life". In contrast, a positive emotion such as "curiosity" might broaden our options for action into "searching for a cure for cancer", or a positive emotion such as "love of beauty" might build into a hobby such as painting watercolors or writing poetry. This is a wonderul theory that is a lasting contribution to the field. Fredrickson identifies 10 salient positive emotions and writes a paragraph or two describing each one on her list, that includes: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. A minor criticism of this taxonomy of positive emotions is that the list is somewhat arbitrary, redundant, and culture-bound according to Fredrickson's contemporary, upper-middle-class lifestyle (e.g., we don't see such positive states as "modesty" or "humility" or "courage" or "piety" listed, for example). Indeed, we could all benefit from contemplating these positive emotion-states and striving to put more positive emotion and less negative emotion into our lives.
Fredrickson next asserts that we need to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion in order to reach a "tipping point" at which we create in our lives an "upward spiral" of connection, resilience, and happiness. She derives this ratio from her professional collaboration with a mathmatician who spent years studying businessmen and women in professional teams, and concluded that when team members treated each other in a positive manner three times as often as they treated each other in a negative manner, the team achieved success. I found her transfer of this obscure ratio to the realm of human happiness to be unwarranted. After all, how can misfortunes in one area of your life be neutralized by precisely three positive experiences in other realms of your life? How, for example, can an individual possibly calculate, say, "I was sad yesterday because my girlfriend broke up with me, so today I need to (1) read some poetry, (2) savor the taste of a good meal, and (3) offer succor to another downtrodden soul to make up for it?" Yet, Fredrickson actually recommends that the reader keep a daily journal in order to attain the 3 to 1 "positivity ratio" that is the core message of the book. Though it cannot be disputed that putting positive experiences into your life is good for your mental health, I found the "3 to 1 Positivity Ratio" to be at a minimum unconvincing, and perhaps even obsessive-compulsive and ludicrous.
The remainder of the book is a review of some of the tools of positive psychology (E.g., develop hobbies, dispute negative thinking, re-connect with nature, experience gratitude, meditate, etc.) that are probably better described in other positive psychology books. Then there is final exhortation to be positive and monitor your ratios. Practicing meditation, which Fredickson herself does with a passion, is an ongoing, major recommendation of this book. If you don't practice meditation and are not inclined to start, then I guarantee you will find this book moderately annoying or worse by the time you have finished reading it.
As if I haven't already been harsh and cruel enough to Fredrickson - who is, after all, a very intelligent, very accomplished, and good-hearted person and probably undeserving of detached criticism of her book - I must add a final concern. One gets the impression that Fredrickson has lived a rather privileged, fortunate life, and that one cannot personally know true happiness unless one has suffered setbacks in life and survived. In a paradoxical way, Fredrickson suffers from the lack of suffering in life, and it does come through at times in giving her exhortations ("meditate ... savor the taste of good food ... go on vacation") an air of elitism and superficiality. Her central example of demonstrating resiliency is surviving her husbands hospital stay (at one of finest hospitals in the country) after his ulcer surgery developed complications. She nervously frets that he was not assigned a hospital bed with a view of nature out his window, but rather a view of another nearby building, and she worries that not having a view of nature will prolong his recovery; she stays by his bed from 10 am to 5 pm each day and worries about getting child care for her young child. She wears a six-inch key around her neck the whole time as a magical talisman to ensure his recovery. Such a histrionic anecdote is not going to impress readers who have suffered far larger losses and setbacks in life.
I hope I haven't offended the many fans of this book, and that I have fairly identified some of the strengths of the book. I would recommed an interested reader turn first to the other works on the subject that I have cited above.
1. The author's research and contribution to the field of positive psychology is both interesting and useful. The awareness that positive emotions "broaden and build" is insightful and intuitively makes sense.
2. Decent introduction and overview of positive emotions and psychology.
3. Some useful exercises.
1. Much of the book is written in a way that, like many self help books, is just bloated. The author, like many others, spends pages and pages telling you what the book is going to do for you when it could be telling what it should be telling you so that it could do something for you. In short, I don't want a book to spend pages and pages pumping me up by telling me what it's going to do for me over and over. It's like a bad infomercial and a complete waste of pages.
2. There are better books out there on this subject, one of which is titled "The How of Happiness" and which I found to just be better in every respect.
My suggestion is to read the research from the author of "Positivity...", as it seems to be an important and consistently reproduced contribution to the field, and get "The How of Happiness".
But she is more focused on how her scientific studies and those of her colleagues provided some of the first testable scientific evidence for the value of increasing one's positive emotions than she is in presenting how the results of those studies can be implemented by people with serious life problems seeking to increase their "positivity."
Some of her techniques involve going to her website, recording daily monitoring of one's emotions, and voluntering to add the reader's results to her database. That's a clever way to find new study volunteers, but not what I'd expect in a self-help book.
Her recommendations for troubled seekers are surprisingly few and bland, given the intense, in-depth amount of research she has clearly done in this field. The book also needed a stronger editor, as there is much repetition of material.
I was also surprised by her showcasing of certain Buddhist techniques that can be used to increase "positivity" with any acknowledgement that similar or identical techniques exist in other religions and spiritualities, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She appeared unaware that the common elements of mysticism and meditation are not confined to Buddhism.
In addition, the examples given in the book of people benefiting from its principles are largely of happily married people with children where everything turned out well for them when they implemented the very few "positivity" techniques that the author suggests
I wondered -- what about the people who implemented these "positivity" techniques, but still had to deal with unfortunate outcomes? Why was no one in her examples single, divorced, widowed, elderly, physically and emotionally disabled, or a teenager?
It seemed that everyone who implemented her principles -- always successfully -- was a happily married academic between the ages of 25 to 60. Where was the rest of the population?
This emphasis on a very narrow segment of the U.S. population caused me to question the value of her book for the rest of us.
The book did spark my interest in "positivity," positive thinking, and the field of positive psychology, and I have gone ahead to purchase other books about it.
The problem is that Frederickson's paper was fiction. She plugged some impressive-looking equations in, made up a story that would get her published, and moseyed straight on to the part where she could make money by writing a book. There was never any basis to her math - she relied on her peers' inexperience to let her outrageous fraud be published without challenge.
As will eventually happen in the academic community, though, someone who knows the math that Frederickson faked read her paper and published a detailed analysis of her falsehoods. When asked to defend her work, Frederickson said she had "neither the expertise nor the insight" (her words) to understand what she had written and attested to be true, and what she now wants you to give her money for the privilege of reading. After she was caught Frederickson's choices became admitting she is stupid or admitting she is a liar. She chose the first, but both are true.
If you're looking for wisdom about how to nurture people and relationships, there are far better authorities to advise you. If you're looking for practices backed by science, you can do far better than a book whose author larks around writing whatever will get her published and, when her luck finally runs out, can't even come up with a better excuse than "math is hard".
Seems like a pretty good idea, doesn't it?
The basic thought is: instead of just trying to figure out what's wrong with people who are emotionally unhealthy, maybe there would be value in trying to figure out what's right with people who are emotionally healthy. Maybe that information would be really helpful to us. In fact, it might even be more helpful!
Thus began the positive psychology movement. (Well, its beginnings were probably a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture.) One of the pioneers of the movement was Martin Seligman who published the oft-cited, best-selling, "Learned Optimism". Barbara L. Fredrickson is now considered to be one of the leading researchers in this movement and she presents many of the interesting and helpful results of her research in "Positivity".
A person might be tempted to think that this is pop psychology by untrained lay persons who tell lots of "feel-good" stories and encourage people to say "I'm feeling fantastic" all day long. That's not the case. This is not about having a "Positive Mental Attitude", Matt Foley style. This book is reporting findings of legitimate academic research from leading universities and credible scientists.
Fredrickson has identified ten key forms of positivity which she explains in the book, as well as giving advice for how to apply them to your life. The ten forms of positivity are: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
The results of positivity are genuinely important and helpful...sometimes in surprising ways. The information in this book is presented in an interesting way and it will be of great benefit to those who read it.
Oak Lawn, IL