When I read a review of the recently published book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become by Barbara Fredrickson, two things came to mind. One was that I was delighted to see that the author had written another book — I had a terrific interview with Fredrickson, which we published in the January 2010 issue, after her book Positivity came out. The other thought I had, based on the brief description I read of Love 2.0, was that her main message — surprisingly — spoke more to the value of face-to-face meetings than romantic love.
It turns out that Barbara Palmer had already ordered the book and had the same thought. She writes about Fredrickson’s take on networking in the Unconventional column in the May issue of Convene.
Meanwhile, here’s a recap of part of my conversation with Fredrickson from a few years ago, about why the “informal program” at face-to-face meetings is so good for our psyche. It definitely lays the groundwork for her new book.
How can you apply your research on positivity to the face-to-face experience? One thing that’s definitely true is that one of the most reliable ways to cultivate positive emotions is to interact with others. I mean, when people — whether they’re introverted or extroverted — are in interaction with others, they’re far more likely to feel good compared to when they’re acting on their own, or more isolated. In a way it sounds so obvious, but one of the most clear-cut ways to generate positive emotion is through connecting. When you think about the fruits of those positive emotions, it can be a wider perspective, seeing the bigger picture, literally. And if the mission is to become more creative, innovative, and really integrate diverse perspectives, then there is no better way to do that than to bring multiple minds together — and in a context that allows you to feel good.
In your book, you mention a meeting in Mexico that galvanized the positive psychology movement. Thinking back to that meeting, how did it deliver that kind of outcome? Choosing a destination like that [had a lot to do with] knowing the science of positive emotions … that people would be more creative and more likely to build connections in such a beautiful location. There was an attempt to honor [the locale] and have meetings for maybe two-thirds of the day or half the day, and then allow people to peel off in twos and threes and go snorkeling, or walk on the beach. A lot of the time, in any meeting like that, it’s outside of the formal program where a lot of the real connection happens — the freedom to follow your interests and say, “Oh, I need to talk more to this person.” That sort of thing — “the informal program” — is really vital.
You say that savoring an experience is a way to “gold plate positivity.” Are there ways that meeting organizers can help attendees savor the experience of the face-to-face event? Leaders, studies have shown, have the most contagious positive emotion. And in part it’s because leaders are in a position to step back and frame things in a broader sense. They have the opportunity when they have the microphone to communicate their way of finding positive meaning in what has transpired. So, key moments like that are when people can help others in the room find a way to interpret what just happened, or frame how they go back into their everyday organization, or what they could get out of this. So, those beginnings, endings, and those key pivot points in between are when — if you have a master of ceremonies or a leader — you can guide those interpretations in a way that can help prolong the good feelings and the benefits of those good feelings. Another thing that really matters is what’s been called “capitalizing.” When you share good news with others, and those others are supportive, you can celebrate together. That’s a great way to savor and increase the positive-emotion yield out of one good event.
In Positivity, you talk about “flow states” — times when people feel like they’re in their element. Have you ever been to a meeting that’s felt like a flow state? Yes, usually those tend to be smaller meetings of people who are really jazzed by the same kinds of ideas. It’s not hard for scientists to get into that mode. The structure of the meeting can really make a difference. When there’s a lot of time for dialogue and for people to build off of one another’s ideas, those are the ones that promote that the most, as opposed to when everything is very well scripted and there’s no time for dialogue or Q&A.