Can You Have too Much Optimism? Learn About the Danger Zone

 In Negative emotions

My husband had misgiving about his new customer. His gut instinct told him not to trust him. But I was optimistic. This customer was talking about big projects that would provide a lot of work and income for my husband’s machine shop business.

So he took on his first big project with this new guy. After delivering the parts, he waited to get paid. The terms were net 30 days. A few weeks after it was overdue, he called. They apologized for not paying. Still, no check came. . . 

This was a great reminder to me that I can be too optimistic and it’s important to trust our gut instincts. Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity ratio (= the number of positive experiences / the number of negative experiences) suggests that a ratio above 9 can put us in the danger zone. This ratio represents both our external experiences and the internal experiences we create with our thinking.

The idea of too many internal positive experiences didn’t make sense to me at first. Until I started running into examples like –

  • I’m sure the roads aren’t too icy! Let’s go out. We’ll be fine.
  • I’m in a hurry so I need to drive fast. I don’t think I’ll get a speeding ticket or get in an accident.
  • I don’t like to floss. I’m not worried about getting cavities.
  • My friend said this is a good investment. I don’t need to do any research on it.

It’s such a valuable reminder that negative emotions do serve a purpose. They are meant to warn us of danger or problems that require awareness and possibly action on our part. The issue is that we can get stuck replaying and ruminating on these warnings beyond their ability to be helpful. AND we can get stuck replaying past problems that we can’t change or future worries that may never happen.

Most of us need to increase our positivity ratio by creating more positive internal experiences so we can get above a ratio of 3 (considered the beginning of the flourishing zone). This could be increasing our optimism, focusing on the good in our day, remembering positive memories, or thinking about something in the future we’re looking forward to. But it’s good to remember that negative emotions like worry and pessimism can be helpful if we use them as a warning. This week, see if you can remember to use your worry, frustration, and stress as a sign that you may need to take action instead of getting stuck in them.

By the way, it took months, but eventually, my husband’s customer did pay. The next time this customer approached him to do more work, he said, “No thanks!” 

Recommended Posts
It's not fairDalai Lama - the Positive Edge