Gary R. Epler, M.D.

Internationally Known Harvard Medical School Professor

Positive Word Cloud

Jan 22, 2019 by Gary Epler

                      Positive Word Cloud 

Think, say, and write more positive words than negative words. The words you think, the words you say, and the words you text can add years to your life. It’s simple to do and costs nothing.

During the 1930s, a group of people who wrote joyful and positive words in daily journals during their 20s lived ten years longer than their counterparts who wrote negative words. This is astounding finding, if medications or surgery had this outcome, these treatments would be consider a huge success. Thinking, saying, and writing more positive words than negative words can prolong your life.

Professor Marty Seligman at UPenn had his team calculate the ratio of positive words to negative words people use on their social media sites. People who have a negative ratio, more negative words than positive words, had more heart disease than people who had a positive ratio. And, it’s not just a neutral ratio, the optimal ratio of positive to negative words is between three and six. Less than three is harmful and more than six shows no benefit.

Married couples whose conversation is negative, more negative words than positive words, have a much higher divorce rate than those with a positive ratio. This means that a spouse who uses negative words must say three to six positive words to restore balance.

This positive to negative word ratio applies to the home, among friends, in a social setting, and at work. For example, Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor wrote that improving the word cloud ratio from 1.2 to 3.6 among workers at a company increased productivity by 40% resulting in a more enjoyable work environment and success.  

A healthy word cloud ratio can result in improved work life, personal life, health, friendships, sociability, creativity, and energy.

Positive social communication improves our lives at home and increases productivity at work. Positive social interaction is defined as both individuals feel better after the conversation. It’s related to your ongoing word cloud.  For example, you tell someone an exciting event that has occurred in your life, and the other person responds with enthusiasm and positive comments, both of you feel good.  

Negative responses can have you feeling neutral or even feeling terrible. Continuing the above example, the person may say “that’s nice,” and ignore the story. This is neutral for you and neutral for the other person, not bad, but a missed opportunity for a positive exchange.

However, there are two destructive responses that leave you feeling bad. The first is a “one up” response where the other person replies by saying something like “That’s nothing, you should hear what I did today.” This conversation results in you either ignoring the comment or being forced to come up with something even better causing stress and a negative feeling. The other person is unfazed and may even feel good. The second destructive response occurs too many times between spouses and at work when the reply is “while you were having fun, I was working hard the whole time, and how much is this going to cost?” Now both individuals are upset and angry. Your upbeat comment has been destroyed making you feel bad, and the other person is angry for an unrelated reason – usually coming into the conversation after a fight with someone else or being yelled at by the boss.   

Call to action: Begin now, think, say, and write more positive words than negative words for optimal performance and impact as well as a healthy and enjoyable life. Practice positive social interaction with your family, your friends, people at work, and all encounters throughout the day.

Gary R. Epler, M.D. in Boston

Best-selling author of Alive with Life