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Cultivating Positive Emotion

In my book I wrote last year, “You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have” I indicated that one of most important habits to build into our lives with some degree of frequency is that of cultivating positive emotion. And for some crazy reason, the universe keeps sending me more and more validation of just how important positive emotion is in just about every endeavor of our lives. Greater positive emotion leads to success.

Spending time with my family on the 4th of July

For example, take marriages. John Gottman, considered the foremost expert on marriage, has said that the two fundamental differences in healthy versus unhealthy marriages are the overall level of positive affect in the relationship and an ability to reduce negative affect during conflict resolution. What I found so interesting in Gottman’s research is that in his research he found no difference in healthy versus unhealthy relationships in regards to arguments and degree of conflict. What’s amazing is that Gottman concludes that 66% of the issues that all couples argue about never get resolved regardless of how healthy their relationships are. John builds upon studies from MIT that healthy couples keep the level of positive to negative affect at a ratio of 5:1 while the most unhealthy relationships have a positive to negative ratio of .8 to 1 which means that there are 1.25 negatives as there are for every positive. At MIT they said that the most effective Teams also maintained that same 5:1 positive to negative ratio and in several significant studies by Google, they were quite surprised that the best predictor of Team success across over 600 teams around the globe was not the make-up of the Team in terms of intelligence and talent but instead was how all Team members felt about their colleagues and the positive nature of their interactions.

Me and my beautiful wife Claudia in New Bern, NC.

I know for me that staying positive is an ongoing internal battle because I am genetically disposed to negative emotions, especially in regards to myself. I have faced a lifetime of fighting my deep insecurities of not being enough-not smart enough; not capable enough; not good looking enough; just…not enough. And even at a time when I had the most actively engaged prayer life, my prayers too frequently were asking God to forgive all my many failings, shortcomings, and flaws. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts I have given myself is my acceptance that I was a creation of God and that I had been richly blessed with an abundance of gifts and born into a family and life that was full and happy. I am very proud of that. In a recent assessment I took through Gallup regarding “Strengths Finder”, I found that my fifth-ranked strength was positivity. The difference that using that strength every day has made in my life is truly significant. And because it is a strength, not only do I leverage it, I find myself hunting for it and I find it everywhere. I travel frequently and so on any given day I encounter lots of service people-TSA Security lines, restaurants, rental cars, hotels, airlines personnel, client organization hallways and cafeterias, Lyfts and Taxis, and people on the aircraft I meet and experience. On any given day it is not unusual for me to encounter well over 100 people and I am honestly racking my brain to recall any encounter over the last several months that was not positive. Perhaps it is luck but I wonder if it isn’t my efforts to cultivate positivity as frequently as possible that in turn brings it back to me in more than full measure?

Just yesterday I was heading to Louis Armstrong International Airport and arrived there at 6:02 pm. When I got there I realized that my 7:30 pm flight was delayed until 8:15 pm. I started to get dismayed but quickly caught myself and went into the Delta Crown Room ready to wait out the delay as positively as I could. As I checked into the lounge, the Delta service representative kindly said that the 5:42 pm flight was delayed until 6:16 pm and if I hurried to the plane she was sure I could get on as there were sufficient seats. I thanked her for her help, rushed to the gate. When I arrived at the gate, the boarding door was already closed but another Delta service presentative put me on the flight, opened the door and as I got on the plane the door closed behind me. You might be reading this and saying to yourself, “so what…people get on earlier flights all the time. What’s the big deal?!” However, these kinds of positive experiences happen to me all the time and the amount of kindness and positivity that is extended to me every day astounds me. Because I am incredibly grateful for this, I, in turn, want to express that gratitude with others that in turn causes others to extend gratitude, appreciation and kindness back to me in return. It is a wonderful, virtuous, and upward spiral that I am becoming more and more convinced is the pathway to a remarkable life and is well in the grasp of all of us if we choose.

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