Positivity: What Is It and Why It Matters to Workplace Culture

How often do you start a workday by being bombarded with news or tasks you didn’t expect? It may be easy to grin and bear it for a while, but over time, daily frustrations can wear us down. Our thoughts can turn into patterns of negative thinking that consume our mind and drain our energy.

Positivity offers an intentional way of disrupting this pattern by becoming mindful of our emotions and creating moments that add up to improve our well-being. For leaders in the workplace, the lessons Barbara Fredrickson shares in her book provide a map for promoting a positive organizational culture that inspires creativity and resilience, especially in times of disruptive change. Her work expands on one of the five elements for flourishing we highlighted here.

This blog summarizes highlights from Fredrickson’s research. A second blog will discuss how 3 Consulting works with leaders to apply these concepts.

Takeaway 1: Positivity is a deeper experience.

Fredrickson’s book defines positivity as not a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. While negativity and suffering still exist, her research identifies 10 positive emotions that are measurable and can be fostered through small, often fleeting moments throughout our day. These 10 emotions were identified by surveying people across a wide range of ages and seeing themes among how human beings experience their lives.

Takeaway 2: Positivity changes our minds and bodies.

When we are around positive people, we also experience their positive emotions—we simply feel good. Fredrickson talks about how positivity shifts our thinking to a higher level where we can imagine new possibilities and are more flexible through times of adversity. Positivity also has been shown to increase immunity and decrease blood pressure. These are just a few examples of how positivity improves psychological health and boosts well-being.

Takeaway 3: Positivity can overshadow negativity.

Humans have a natural bias toward negativity. We tend to look for what is bad in our day and our pessimistic emotions hang on longer. To disrupt this natural tendency, we need to search for moments that create positive emotions. Having more positive moments than negative moments leads to positivity that inspires flourishing.

Takeaway 4: Positivity arises when we feel safe.

Most emotions associated with positivity require being in an environment where we feel safe. It’s hard to elicit joy or interest when we feel threatened. To foster positivity in the workplace we need to first ensure people’s needs for security and belonging are met.

Takeaway 5: 10 emotions elicit positivity

Fredrickson outlines 10 emotions that foster a sense of positivity. Here is a summary of how she defines each emotion.

  • Joy is an individualized emotion that happens unexpectedly when things go your way better than you expect. It can be as simple as having your coworkers acknowledge your birthday.
  • Gratitude happens when someone goes out of their way to do something good for you, like your boss delivering you a cup of coffee. The feeling opens your heart and encourages you to also give back to someone else without expecting anything in return.
  • Serenity is a sense of peace that happens when you are in surroundings that feel safe and familiar. It comes with little effort and can often be spurred from being in nature.
  • Interest is something new or different that catches your attention and pulls you in enough to explore. This emotion is strongly connected with learning and growth.
  • Hope comes when you are in a situation where the outlook is not good, but you desire something good to happen. “Hope in desperate situations is like fearing the worst but yearning for better,” says Fredrickson.
  • Pride is dependent on how you view others viewing you and involves a level of humility. This can be a difficult emotion because it can lead to hubris and/or feelings of shame or guilt.
  • Amusement often comes when something unexpected happens that makes you laugh and is shared with others. This emotion requires a sense of security that comes from feeling included and valued. If a joke is based on sarcasm or making fun of someone, this can lead to people feeing uncomfortable and hurt instead.
  • Inspiration occurs when something gains your attention. “Inspiration doesn’t simply feel good, it makes you want to express what’s good and do good yourself,” says Fredrickson. In the workplace, this can arise from seeing excellence and wanting to aspire to that level, rather than feeling envy or resentment.
  • Awe is similar to inspiration but happens when you see goodness on a grand scale, and it draws you in. Sometimes it can arise by leaving your desk to walk around and observe the impact of your organization’s work in action.
  • Love is not a single emotion but encompasses all of them, says Fredrickson. She describes love as conditional, meaning it requires two people who intentionally create those positive moments and experience the same feelings for one another.

Applying it to workplace culture

Understanding these emotions and how they influence workplace culture can help you become more intentional as a leader in building your own positivity and fostering it with your team. Simple efforts each day can spark more positive moments that help people weather disruptive change and work together toward something greater.

In the next blog, we’ll explore how I think about these concepts in my work with organizations. Learn more about the books that define my work with companies on culture and engagement:

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Flourishing Together

Join the conversation to learn and explore how we flourish in change. You’ll receive an occasional email offering ideas and tools you can apply.

Flourishing Together

Join the conversation to learn and explore how we flourish in change. You’ll receive an occasional email offering ideas and tools you can apply.

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