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Day 147: Reciprocal Causality

“Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” -John N. Mitchell

Today I had the great privilege of interviewing one of the people who has most deeply inspired my positivity quest. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity, which is my basic textbook on changing my mind is also the best toolbox I know of for how to increase your positivity ratio and dis-empower the normal but not useful negativity bias that makes us human. Even five months into the positivity quest, there are more days than I like to admit when I have to return to the basics and pay better attention to my own positivity ratio.

The science behind positive psychology is a growing base of research that demonstrates how positive emotions, can and do tip the scales toward a life of flourishing. In her book, Barb describes through both story and strong scientific data how the capacity for positive emotions evolved for our human ancestors and how, today, they vitally shape people’s health and well-being. This month she had the honor of presenting her research on how meditation practice enhances positive emotions to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Interestingly in translation, she learned that there is no such word as positive emotions in Tibetan.

In my own personal research study, I have confirmed over and over how what we focus on multiplies. Today, I learned from Barb that in psychological research one of the aims is to identify the causal arrow between thoughts and behaviors. We witness reciprocal causality in relationships when the positive actions of one partner inspires positive and loving acts in return. Pretty quickly, it is hard to tell which behavior caused which, because the arrows of positivity or negativity are going both ways. According to Barb, this is true within the individual as well. We create our own upward spirals through this mechanism and it becomes an “engine of dynamic changes over time.”

Another new fact that I some how missed in my reading was the idea that in spite of the negativity bias that serves to protect us and is built into our fight/flight survival response, Barb taught me about Positivity offset which means that when you look at the majority of life moments, they are positive or neutral. Often we don’t witness the ease with which we pass through our lives because we are caught in a story in our mind that usually has nothing to do with the present moment. The most powerful thing we can do to lift our positivity ratio is just to notice the sweet and benign experience that most of the moments of life offer. If you have never tuned into Lunch with the Loveologist before this would be a good one to start with.