The Positivity Trap

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http:/

Positivity (pioneered by researcher Barbara Fredrickson) can help you become more productive, more fulfilled, and more creative and innovative — by expanding your ability to see and perceive opportunities. So of course, as a quality professional, I want to get it, and be it.

A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends in the world. We were talking about continuous improvement and self-improvement when he suggested that I take Fredrickson’s little quiz to see where my positivity ratio was. According to her research, a ratio greater than 3:1 indicates that your psyche is in a regime to flourish.

I have always been an optimistic and highly positive person, but I’ve also been plagued by depression, limiting thoughts, and self-defeating behavior. But! I’d also just had one of the most wonderful days of my life (ever EVER in the history of history) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how HIGH my positivity ratio could be. Woohoo! Slam dunk!

I took the positivity test by answering the following 20 questions. It only takes a couple minutes. It’s at:

Imagine my shock when, after one of the most positive and fulfilling days of my life – one imbued with joy, hope, potential, and the wild excitement of being totally aligned with who I am and connected to what I am becoming — that my positivity ratio was a miserable 1.67!!

How could this be?? I looked more at the 20 questions, and realized that I had some pretty mean negative emotions getting in my way. Contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful? Check. Disgust, distaste, revulsion? Check… jealousy will do that, and I have issues with jealousy. Hate, distrust, or suspicion? Yeah, unfortunately. Scared, fearful, and afraid? Yep… any time you have a situation in life that you’re not quite totally accepting, it can lead to anxiety.

My positivity test was really depressing. But, as a belligerent optimist by nature, I asked myself what useful opportunity for improvement might this provide? The answer: don’t worry about getting more positive… see what you can do to manage — and eliminate — some of those negative, yucky feelings. Apparently they are more poisonous than I’d been aware of.

Fast forward to a month or so later, and I decided to take the positivity test again. I’ve been consciously managing my jealousy issues (haven’t succeeded yet, but I’m making the effort) — so the negative emotions associated with jealousy are saturating my life a little less. However, I am definitely nowhere near as fun-loving, amazed, hopeful, optimistic, inspired, serene, content, or in the zone of complete awesomeness and loving life as I was last time I took the test. I would suspect that my positivity ratio would be around the same as it was last time. But not so!!

The result? 2.67. Still not in the zone of flourishing, but enough point evidence for me that my strategy of managing negative emotions (and not working so much on trying to be fluffy and fun-loving) is paying off.

I had thought that positivity was all about being more positive. Now I realize the trap: it’s just as much about not being as negative, and not letting the negatives burn their cancer as deeply into your body.


  • I appreciated this post and took the test myself and achieved an even lower score. In the course of life’s journey, one will encounter catastrophic events which have physical, mental, and emotional effects. The self-doubt and jealousy which stems from insecurity and resentment has its source in those who would belittle or irrationally criticize you for their own pleasure. I am endeavoring to avoid letting myself be defined by my critics. I hope that you continue to surround yourself with respectful and supportive people who encourage you to follow your passions and expand your capabilities.

  • UPDATE for everybody who might be interested: I’ve been bouncing between a 6 and an 8 for the past three weeks. Using this test as a personal guidepost has been amazingly useful to me… I plan to continue.

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