Research suggests that there is a magic ratio to happiness, based on your amount of positive and negative experiences. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson identifies the optimal ratio as about 3:1, meaning 3 positive experiences to every 1 negative one. Most people are stuck around 2:1, which is just enough to get by, but not to flourish.
What does it mean “to flourish”? It is to “live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience” (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).
In relationships, the bar is set even higher. Happy couples tend to have a 5:1 ratio, and those in the 2:1 range are likely to divorce. This bar continues to rise as you expand to other relationships. In general, the less often you interact with someone, the more positive to negative experiences you’ll need to have a happy relationship.
Fredrickson explains the individual effect through her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The theory suggests that the cumulative experience of momentary positive emotions aids in the development of resources for long-term success and well-being, in particular through growth in resilience (Fredrickson 1998, 2001).
However, the power of the ratio does not go on infinitely. Individuals who have a positive to negative ratio of over 11:1 are just as unhappy as the 2:1 individuals. There is balance to everything.
The easiest route is to improve your ratio is to find more positive experiences. There are plenty of ways to have a positive experience, including contacting a friend, writing a gratitude log, volunteering, and giving a compliment.
In our already highly-quantified world, it may feel silly to add yet another metric to count. You might be wondering – why does anyone need to track these experiences, when we can just ask people if they are happy or not? Well, a separate study examined the effect of positive emotions on life satisfaction and resilience. After a month of tracking emotions, it was found that improvement in resilience was predicted by the quantity of positive experiences (Cohn et al, 2009). Meanwhile, negative experiences and self reported life satisfaction did not lead to any gain in resilience.
How do you even identify positive and negative experiences? Through mindfulness! Use Pocket Clarity to develop your awareness so you can identify your positive and negative moments throughout the day. Pocket Clarity memberships are available for as little as $5 per month! Join the club today.
- Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. The American Psychologist, 60(7), 678–686. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.7.678
- Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness Unpacked: Positive Emotions Increase Life Satisfaction by Building Resilience. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 9(3), 361–368. doi:10.1037/a0015952