Sunday, July 26, 2009

Positive Emotion Words

In one of the organisations I’m currently doing consulting in, we’ve been playing with 'Positive Emotion Theme Days'.

Each day, I randomly select a positive emotion word and then the team I’m working with do their best to enact and live the selected emotion during the work day. It really makes for a much better work environment, is great for team bonding and just plain fun. I’m sure the improved mood and state of the team also carries over into better outcomes and experiences for our clients.

Couple of days ago I was looking through the dictionary for a positive emotion word and after about 40 pages I still hadn’t found one I could use. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried looking through the dictionary for positive emotion words, you might want to try it… but let me tell you, there’s not a lot of them in there!

We have more negative emotion words

In fact, research shows that we have more negative emotion words in our language than we have positive words. We have approximately 50% more words to express negativity than positivity.

I know this, cause I once counted them! Yes, I actually went through the whole Shorter Oxford Dictionary and looked at every word, determined if it was a word that had emotional valence associated with it and then rated it as positive or negative (by a defined rating criteria). The graph below shows my results for each of the letters of the alphabet, indicating how many positive and negative words exist for each letter of the alphabet.



The reason I undertook this research, was that I had heard during an NLP training that we have 50% more negative words than positive words and since words are the tools we use in large measure to construct and filter our experience and reality, having more negative distinctions can lead us into seeing and generating more negative experiences in our subjective world.

This made a lot of sense to me, and I know how powerful words can be and the importance of learning to use language positively and generatively. However, being a scientist by inclination and by training, I decided I had to check these statistics. So, during a period of relatively free time, I counted every word in the dictionary.

I’ll be blogging in future entries about the power of language and how it relates to life enhancing. In today’s entry I wanted to bring to your awareness, the fact that there are more negative words than positive words, in case you didn’t already know, and to remind you that to live an enhanced life you need to track for how you are languaging your world and make sure you shift the balance from negativity to positivity.

A Blinding Flash of the Obvious

I was also motivated to write about this due to a cool BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) that I discovered the other day…

So there I was at work, attempting to find a positive emotion word in the dictionary to use as our theme for the day, and after 40 odd pages of looking I still hadn’t found one. At that point I decided to throw off the old technology, and move to the electronic form. I did a google on 'Positive Emotion Words', in attempt to find a list of positive emotion words I could use.

For a start, there sure don’t seem to be a lot of them on the web… not surprising really given we have less positive emotion words than we have negatives.

Secondly, I came across a couple of lists and blogs talking about emotion words and discussing the insight that there are more negatives than positives. For example, in the blog ‘COPYWRITING KID - From 0 to 100 in whatever it takes…’ the writer decided to make a list of emotion words because of the realization of “how important it is to have a broad vocabulary of emotional words”. In pulling together this list, the blogger soon noticed the following:
“Before I show the list here, I want to share something I noticed… I kind of had
a feeling that most of the words were describing negative emotions, so I then
broke it up for me and listed the positive and negative emotions in separate
lists. The result? 147 words that describe NEGATIVE emotions. 55 that describe
POSITIVE emotions.”

Mostly though, the thing that inspired me to write this blog entry today, was the information I came across on wikepedia when I searched for a ‘positive emotion word list’. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, just the list of Plutchik’s Primary Human Emotions:

Primary Emotion
  • Anticipation
  • Joy
  • Acceptance
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Anger

Alternately, according to respected psychologist Paul Ekman, this list of primary, basic human emotions can be distilled down to: sadness, happiness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. These emotions combine in different ways to form other more complex emotions, including compassion, boredom, embarrassment, rage, hunger, etc.

More Primary Negative Emoting

So here I was, trying to find positive emotion words when these lists of primary emotions became starkly juxtaposed against the insight that our vocabulary contains more negative than positive words… and this generated the following BFO -- if you look at the list of primary human emotions above, you’ll note that there are approx. 50% more negative primary emotions than positive emotions.

So damn obvious really… if you do more negative primary emoting — if the human evolved patterning system has a built-in propensity for more negative emoting (probably as a natural survival mechanism to move away from danger and pain quicker and more powerfully than being attracted to food and pleasure) — then the language tools for thinking and processing the world will likely reflect those underlying mechanisms and patterns.

We have 50% more negative emoting words in our language because we are optimized to do 50% more negative emoting. BFO!

Now, what can we learn from this?

For a start, we need to give positivity and positive languaging much more attention, focus, skill and salience in order to overcome the natural tendency and unconscious competency in negative emoting and negative languaging.

We also need to track for negative languaging and the tendency for negative emoting in our environment, our teams, our families, friends and society, and do our best to filter it, shift it and lead it to the more healthier positive form.

It is not generally life enhancing to be wallowing in negativity or using negative and pessimistic languaging. It is much more life enhancing and brings about wonderful self-fulfilling prophecies in life when you celebrate positivity, joy, optimism and generative languaging.

Positive languaging is a very life enhancing skill!

We’ll talk more about the various components and strategies for positive languaging in coming blogs. So stay tuned :-) And in the coming days, perhaps you may enjoy and benefit from doing what our team is doing…

Randomly select positive emotions and use them as a theme for your day.

Try doing a day of ‘Delight’ or a day of ‘Tranquility’. Perhaps you and your friends or colleagues might really get a buzz out of doing a day of ‘Fascination’ or even a day of ‘Excitement’. The other day we did ‘Buoyant’ and it was such a bouncy, bubbly and fun day. Try ‘Positive Emotion Theme Days’ you might find them truly life enhancing.


best wishes and more life enhancing smiles
Grant


PS:
In case you didn’t get it consciously, we don’t ‘have’ emotions – we ‘do’ emoting! Of course, it typically seems like we have emotions, or more to the point, emotions have us… because we do emoting with unconscious competence and without conscious deciding. The exercise described above is designed to bring to conscious awareness and build skill in choosing and doing emoting.

Choice equals control in life and is incredibly life enhancing :-)

8 comments:

  1. A fascinating and delightful story. I shall introduce a positive emotion day in my work unit.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting research. The results don't surprise me. Our western society media seems to focus on negativity

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another terrific weigh-in on life enhancement, Grant. So often positive initiatives and studies of same lack the kind of objectivity and empirical method you always achieve. I guess the underlying premise here is that quantity of a type of word says something about quality -- or at least tone, in this case -- of life. For me, one explanation for that emphasis on negativity in human communication goes to the survival equation, i.e., that we always take care of the negative first because by nature we know that we must eliminate threats, else we might not be alive to pursue the positive which, also by nature, tends to be unthreatening. E.g., slay the saber tooth tiger as he leaps; you can enjoy the sunset later.

    Sully

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Sully, great point, yes I believe you are right, the predominance of negative focus is likely to be a carry over from evolved survival mechanisms -- our ancestors who managed to evade the saber tooth tiger because of a greater response to fear and attention to danger, survived to... well... become our ancestors :) and the pollyanna cave men/women turned into a meal.

    I think this mechanism is also shown in the sympathetic over parasympathetic dominance in our autonomic nervous system. Which links to our heart and gut brains and our abilities to cope with stress. I'll be blogging on this in a coming entry. There's some really powerful and useful skills, tools and knowledge about all this, that has an increasingly well researched foundation.

    So once again, thanks for your insightful comments, I truly appreciate them.

    smiles and life enhancing best wishes, Grant

    ReplyDelete
  5. I personally think it has changed the dynamics of our team at work. Previously it was like walking into a very sad and stale place. Now its enjoyable, fun and colourful. It is interesting to note how other people also DO positive emoting. I may DO BOUYANT one way but my colleague may see it another way....it is VERY interesting. Grant, again, thanking you!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I had been searching with regards to positive thoughts I ran across this short article from Google. You Reveal positive emotions that is useful we consider a concept about good thoughts out of this article. You Compose genuinely useful terminology and wording regarding optimistic feelings. We have found out about a brand new press participant which helps to be able to condition your own beneficial inner thoughts, maybe it's a means to fix fight whatever you call deadly thoughts although it performs your personal preferred music as well as videos, the website is really http://www.emoplayer.com however it's by compel I have been told the way the smart way get it is really to check out all of them about Twitter and you'll acquire and invite…….

    ReplyDelete
  7. I had been searching with regards to positive thoughts I ran across this short article from Google. You Reveal positive emotions that is useful we consider a concept about good thoughts out of this article. You Compose genuinely useful terminology and wording regarding optimistic feelings. We have found out about a brand new press participant which helps to be able to condition your own beneficial inner thoughts, maybe it's a means to fix fight whatever you call deadly thoughts although it performs your personal preferred music as well as videos, the website is really http://www.emoplayer.com however it's by compel I have been told the way the smart way get it is really to check out all of them about Twitter and you'll acquire and invite…….

    ReplyDelete
  8. very interesting Grant. what were the 55 positive words?

    ReplyDelete

Share your thoughts and comments...