Customer Reviews: Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life
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on May 4, 2011
Okay, don't get me wrong: I'm not a grumpy sourpuss intent on raining on the parade of Positive Psychology books published in recent years. I'm actually a mental health professional, a big fan of positive psychology, and I offer workshops to people on bringing positive psychology principles and tools into their lives. Fredrickson is an accomplished researcher, and her writing is pleasing at times. However, her main thesis (that we should strive to experience 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion) is vague and impractical, and her recommendations for how to do so are better and more comprehensively stated elsewhere (such as in Martin Seligman's Authentic Happines or his more recent work, Flourishing). Given the avalanche of positive psychology books raining down on the unsuspecting public nowadays, one must be discerning in which ones to read and purchase, and while this is not a bad book, I didn't find it to be the most helpful or well-written one - especially in contrast to Seligman's magnum opus "Flourishing", which was, unfortunately for Fredrickson, published at nearly the same time.

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.
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on August 18, 2009
I've read 4 books on the subject of positive psychology and this here was my least favorite. It isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll outline my final judgment with a list of pros and cons.


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".
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on March 21, 2009
Dear Friends: I am somewhat disappointed with this book. The author is clearly a very brilliant scholar in her field, and writes clearly and in an interesting manner.

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.
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on February 21, 2010
There is an area of research and investigation in the field of psychology that is called the "positive psychology movement". For many years, psychologists studied what was wrong with people. They investigated aberrant behavior and psychological disorders. You might say they studied those who were emotionally unhealthy. That's what seemed to make the most sense to those working in the field. But somewhere along the way someone asked a pretty good question: "Hey, what if we studied healthy people? What if we investigated those who were emotionally healthy and happy and well adjusted?"

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.

Dan Marler
Oak Lawn, IL
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on August 16, 2013
At best, this book is physics-envy and psuedoscience at its worst. At worst, it is bald-faced fraud. Recent work by Brown et al. has thoroughly discredited the magical happiness ratio on which this book is based to the point that the author herself has acknowledged that she just used a bunch of equations with no understanding of their meaning or consideration of their applicability (hint: there is none). Can we please let this die the shameful death it deserves?
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on August 10, 2013
This book's premise - that happiness can be summoned via a magic ratio of 3 positive statements for every negative statement - originated in an academic paper that Frederickson published in 2005. That paper employed a mathematical model used by physicists and engineers to model complex nonlinear systems. The author claimed she could apply the same approach to human interactions to derive a scientifically-testable model for producing happiness.

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".
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on January 24, 2014
The calculation of the specific 'ratio' in particular has been shown to be somewhere between incredible sloppiness, and downright fraud (Nick Brown, Alan Sokal, Harris Friedman, 'American Psychologist' issues 68, 2013, 'The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking'). That doesn't mean her thesis is wrong - simply that there is absolutely no scientifically-validated evidence or argument in favor of it.

The results of her multi-million-dollar attempt to help soldiers with PTSD (which would probably offer the best attempt at some kind of actual validation) ended up showing no effect at all on PTSD, and effects on other outcomes small enough to be very easily explained as due to selection, Hawthorne, and placebo effects.

I'm sure the author is a nice person, and her thesis SOUNDS reasonable, but there's nothing whatsoever to back it up.
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on January 30, 2009
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson writes an easy to read stunningly, compelling book. Positivity is rich with the science and research of how and yes why, experiencing positive emotions makes life easier- both in the good and bad times. Fredrickson brings her many gifts as an analytical scientist to the table as she writes about her years of in-depth research (and that of many others) with "the numbers" that document why positive emotions make our lives better. I have read many happiness books but this book is a true joy to read as Fredrickson weaves in her own heartfelt experiences and personal stories from her colleagues and research participants making the "science" come to life. But, that isn't all Fredrickson gives you practical, easy techniques based on the research of how raise your "positivity ratio" and find yourself when you get lost in the busy and uncertain world we live in today. For me once again reading this book narrowed the gap between the major premises of many faith traditions and science. If you are a skeptic she has the numbers that really document how positive emotion shifts your ability to see more options, be physically healthier and how to feel better. Or, if you just want to make a change in life and want to enjoy your life more you will love Positivity.

Bonnie Snyder,Ed.S
Life Balance Coach & Author
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on February 23, 2009
This book has definitely made my life better! It has helped me become a more positive, resilient person.

I read many books, and they helped diminish my negativity, but still it kept creeping back into my life. After reading this book, however, my anxiety began to melt away. I stopped waking up with my heart pounding, afraid to face the day. For the first time in a long time, I really felt good.

The author uses research to demonstrate that genuinely happy, positive, people make better decisions, have improved memory, and get along better with others. She showed me that the "self-analysis" and "problem solving" I thought I was doing when I was negative were actually inaccurate and self-defeating.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a smiley-face kind of person. The author makes the point that positivity is spontaneous; if you make it routine it becomes fake and loses its benefits.

To be fair, the other books I read gave me insight which prepared me well for this book. But still I needed something positive to replace the negativity, and this book did the job! Plus, it's an easy read!
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on May 12, 2009
I read this book a couple of months ago and have been listening to the Audio CD daily (both rented from my library). For me, the scientific section was interesting and was a good lead-in to the "self-help" section. I am naturally a pessimistic/negative-reacting person and after reading and listening to this book on positivity, I am slowly changing into a more positive, upbeat, joy-filled person. I am able to work through negative situations rather quickly and have changed some painful memories into good ones with helpful suggestions in the second section. This, for me, has been a life-changing book. It really helped to listen to it, too, and I was surprised at how much I had missed the first time through by just reading the book. While driving, I listen to the CD's and rewind (and rewind and rewind) when a section "speaks" to me. I want to "re-wire" my brain towards positivity!

Another book I'd recommend is J. Kelm's "Joy of Appreciative Living".

"Positivity" living is thriving, flourishing, appreciative living. It's looking for what's good and what's right in each person and situation.

And there always IS something good/right in each person and just have to have the "eyes to see" the gift. The book helps you find it. Positivity is not denying the negative, it's looking for the lesson or opportunity in each situation.

If you tend towards negativity and pessimism, I highly recommend this book.
Life is hard...find the good in it, so that you may enjoy what you do have.
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