You're walking through a crowded park on a beautiful spring evening, and a young women comes up to you with a smile and says, "I want you to have this." She hands you a large post-it note that says, "You're great." What would you do? Say? Think? This happened to me the other day in Washington Square Park in NYC. I was a little taken aback but when I saw what it was and the smile on her face, I said, "You're great too!" She walked away toward a group of people holding large poster boards. I had to find out what was up.
She was participating in an NYU student psychology project called #positiviepostitproject (yes, hashtag and all).
These students were in a class learning about positive psychology (WHAT?) and trying to put it into practice by giving a post-it with positive message to passersby and asking them to pass it along to someone else in the park to see what the effect was.
Of course I was "in," and convinced my friend to do the same. I picked one that said "You're Awesome. Rock on," so I decided to give it to someone I saw with a guitar on his back. I tapped him on the shoulder and handed him the note. He stood there for a long time looking at it but didn't turn back to me or say anything.
Ok. Not what I was expecting. But it's a stranger in a park in NY. You never know what to expect.
On the other hand, my friend gave his to a couple who loved it. I looked over at them and they were smiling broadly, clearly tickled by this positive message from a stranger.
I also was tickled by the idea, the students and that they were learning about positive psychology, a topic near and dear to my heart!
So if you're not familiar, here are a few facts about positivity from the book of the same name by Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist who has devoted her career to understanding the effect of positive emotions.
- Positivity feels good. I loved getting the “You’re Great” post-it, and the couple in the park loved their positive message. Simple but true, positivity feels good.
- Positivity changes how your mind works. Do you think differently when you’re in a good mood? Numerous studies have found that a positive mental state results in more creativity, attentiveness, open-mindedness and expanded thinking. Those are powerful results. Definitely worth the effort and focus on a more positive attitude.
- Positivity transforms your future. When it comes to positivity, the effects go beyond the mental benefits. Researchers at University of Pittsburgh looked at rates of death and chronic health conditions among participants of the Women's Health Initiative study, which has followed more than 100,000 women ages 50 and over since 1994. Women who were optimistic - those who expeced good rather than bad things to happen - were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause than pessimists and 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease after eight years of follow up in the study. Optimists also were less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or smoke cigarettes.
- Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. Think about it. When you’re in a good mood, you close out the negative. It’s like there’s no room for that when you’re focused on what’s going well.
- Positivity obeys a tipping point. Fredrickson’s research has also shown that there’s an optimal ratio of positive to negative emotions in order to experience true happiness: 3 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion. This is not a Pollyannish view of the world. Her model accounts for the naturally occurring negativity in all our lives but focuses on the need to skew toward the positive. People with this 3:1 ratio experience more happiness and life satisfaction. Good stuff!
- You can increase your positivity. There are lots of ways to do so. Go for a walk. Enjoy nature. Play with a puppy. Look at pictures of kittens. Spend time with someone you love. Focus on what you’re grateful for. Compliment someone or give them a positive post-it! Focus on your strengths and successes. You get the idea.
How will you boost your positivity ratio? Let us know below! You can also search the #positivepostitproject on Instagram and see what those crazy kids are up to!