The Aspect Ratio of Happiness
Monday, February 22, 2016
Within the context of any whole—an interpersonal relationship, an image, a business, a work of art, a form in nature, the human body, the human brain—exist parts which relate to one another in complex ways. Proportionality constitutes one kind of relationship that exists between parts of a whole. Simply put, a proportion means: So much of X to so much of Y.
In the world of film making the aspect ratio tells us the dimension of width and length of the image we see. A typical aspect ratio is 4:3 or 1.33: 1. This aspect ratio creates, though subtly, an influence on how we experience the images we see. Some filmmakers have changed the aspect ratio, sometimes several times within the same movie, to create differences in emotional intensity and perception in the viewer, the technology of both film and television evolving to produce ever wider screens and, therefore, scenes.
Throughout history, mathematical proportions have provided lenses through which to understand the balances of forms in nature, art, and human behavior—in social, political and business contexts.
In Greek philosophy the Golden Mean described the balance, relationship or proportion between two extremes. If, for example, you take the notion of courage (example from Wikipedia), to be courageous in some contexts would result in “recklessness,” while not being courageous in other circumstances would be too weak and “cowardly.” We also hear the expression, “All things in moderation.” Eating is great, but too much makes you fat and too little makes you anorexic. Too much alcohol causes dependence and dysfunctionality, but tea-totaling (and this may be necessary if one is in a 12 step program for compulsive drinking) removes one from the occasional glass of the bubbly to celebrate at a wedding, etc. Even if you are a determined person who never quits anything, at one extreme you might hit your head on the proverbial stone wall. But quitting before you’ve done your best will leave you feeling unsuccessful and less optimistic about future pursuits. In Eastern religion and philosophy the notion of The Middle Way, is similar.
The Golden Ratio= Phi (1.618. . .) In math and beauty and nature this ratio appears. And Sacred Geometry incorporates mathematical principles at work in both nature’s forms, and also art and architecture. As an example, the nautilus shell “grows at constant rate and so its shell forms a logarithmic spiral to accommodate that growth without changing shape. Also, honeybees construct hexagonal cells to hold their honey.” (Wikipedia)
From Classical Greece to Leonardo Davinci, the “ideal” proportion of head length to height for human beings is roughly 1/8. Most human beings have ratios between 1/7 head-to-body length to 1/8, whereas babies have a 1/4 proportion.
The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, is something observed in the success of businesses. 20% of your time produces 80% of your business. And 20% of your customers produce 80% of your income. The Italian, who developed this idea first observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the populace. In general the rule states that 80% of effects come from 20% causes.
I have also seen this rule used to describe that if 4/5 of the time you keep to a schedule—be it exercise or a nutrition plan—then that will cover the 1/5 that you go off course. So doing something positive most of the time will offset a less stringent regimen for brief periods.
John Gottman, a psychologist who studied couples extensively, watching hours of videotape of them discussing different issues, came to the conclusion that he could predict with over 90% accuracy, which were in relationships/marriages that would last and which would fail. He concluded that a couple needed to have a 5/1 ratio of positive to negative interactions to survive. The quality of life would go down dramatically, and the relationship would teeter on the brink of disaster as that ratio went down. The couple could be talking about anything, whether superficial or profound, but what mattered was whether the interaction was experienced as positive or negative. It is possible, though it requires some art, to disagree positively. Conflicts of interest, themselves, do not necessarily have to devolve into negative interactions.
In psychological researcher, Barbara Frederickson’s book, Positivity, she talks about the all-important ratio of 3/1 positivity to negativity for flourishing, whether in speaking about individuals, couples, or groups, including businesses. Positive emotions allow for flexible thinking, resilience, openness to new ideas. Negative emotions tend to narrow options and opportunities. For severely depressed individuals, tunnel vision often applies. People forget they had good times and fail to feel hopeful for the future.
Frederickson says negative emotions function in the moment, evolutionarily, to promote action such as fighting or fleeing when we feel afraid, whereas positive emotions “broaden-and-build” for the future. I believe the evolutionary thrust for positive emotions may be even more basic: Just like sex feels good which promotes procreation, and food tastes good so we will nourish ourselves, positive emotions give us a reason to live. If we were only “protected” by negative emotions to survive, we would cease to want to survive. Positivity is inherently filled with purpose because it connects us to what comes into our senses, to the earth upon which we walk, and to the people with whom we relate. Positive emotions draw us to others, and into nature, and even to develop a more loving relationship to ourselves.
Guest Saddle: What do you guess is your ratio of positive to negative outlooks on yourself and your opportunities, on others? How often do you find yourself truly enjoying a walk, a meal, a conversation, an activity? Do you feel prone to that Puritan guilt when you enjoy yourself or bring enjoyment to others? Or do you relish and savor those opportunities?