The 20 Benefits of Positive Psychology
It would be impossible to list all of the benefits of positive psychology, but we’ll try to give a comprehensive overview of some of the most impact and influential outcomes of practicing positive psychology.
In general, the greatest potential benefit of positive psychology is that…
1. It teaches us the power of shifting one’s perspective.
This is the focus of many techniques, exercises, and even entire programs based on positive psychology, because a relatively small change in one’s perspective can lead to astounding shifts in well-being and quality of life. Injecting a bit more optimism and gratitude into your life is a simple action that can give you a radically more positive outlook on life.
Of course, no respected positive psychologist would tell you to think about, act out, and focus on ONLY the positive in life—balance is important. Positive psychology was not established to replace traditional psychology, but to complement it with a positive bias that’s just as strong as psychology’s negative bias over the last several decades.
Studies and Research
Given the impact of shifting one’s perspective, positive psychology’s benefits spring from research that shows us how to harness this shift and maximize the potential for happiness in many of our everyday behaviors. For example, each of these findings gives us a concrete idea for improving our own quality of life:
2. People overestimate the impact of money on their happiness by quite a lot. It does have some influence, but not nearly as much as we might think, so focusing less on attaining wealth will likely make you happier (Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009).
3. Spending money on experiences provides a bigger boost to happiness than spending money on material possessions (Howell & Hill, 2009).
4. Gratitude is a big contributor to happiness in life, suggesting that the more we cultivate gratitude, the happier we will be (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
5. Oxytocin may provoke greater trust, empathy, and morality in humans, meaning that giving hugs or other shows of physical affection may give you a big boost to your overall well-being (and the well-being of others; Barraza & Zak, 2009).
6. Those who intentionally cultivate a positive mood to match the outward emotion they need to display (i.e., in emotional labor) benefit by more genuinely experiencing the positive mood. In other words, “putting on a happy face” won’t necessary make you feel happier, but putting in a little bit of effort likely will (Scott & Barnes, 2011).
7. Happiness is contagious; those with happy friends and significant others are more likely to be happy in the future (Fowler & Christakis, 2008).
8. People who perform acts of kindness towards others not only get a boost in well-being, they are also more accepted by their peers (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Lyubomirsky, 2012).
9. Volunteering time to a cause you believe in improves your well-being and life satisfaction and may even reduce symptoms of depression (Jenkinson et al., 2013).
10. Spending money on other people results in greater happiness for the giver (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008).
Positive psychology also lends itself to improvements in the workplace; studies from the field have found that:
11. Positive emotions boost our job performance.
12. Positive emotions in the workplace are contagious, which means one positive person or team can have a ripple effect that extends through the entire organization.
13. Small, simple actions can have a big impact on our happiness, meaning that it doesn’t take much to encourage your workplace to become a happier and more positive place (Kjerulf, 2016).
One of the most important benefits of practicing a positive psychological outlook is, to put it broadly…
14. Success! Not only does success make us happier, feeling happy and experiencing positive emotions actually increases our chances of success (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
However, don’t assume that refusing to brook any encroachment of negative emotions or outlooks will help you reach success.
15. An important finding from positive psychology research is that forcing people who are not naturally optimists to “just think positively” can do more harm than good; unrealistic optimism is detrimental, along with intense pessimism (del Valle & Mateos, 2008; Dillard, Midboe, & Klein, 2009).
Another broad benefit of the positive psychology movement is a more well-defined idea of what “the good life” is.
Renowned positive psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and colleagues took on the challenge of determining what makes a good life, and they found some interesting findings that you can apply to your own life (2013). Their research showed that happiness and a sense of meaning in life do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, indicating that focusing on positive emotions alone will not bring the fulfilling and satisfying life you crave.
Some of their more specific findings included the following:
16. The satisfaction of one’s wants and needs boost happiness, but have virtually no impact on meaningfulness; this indicates that focusing on obtaining what you want will increase your happiness, but you may have to supplement to get a deeper sense of meaning.
17. Happiness is present-oriented, rooted in the moment, while meaningfulness is more focused on the past and future and how they link to the present; this finding suggests that you can focus on the present to increase your happiness, but you might consider thinking more about your past and future to find meaning.
18. “Givers” experience more meaning, while “takers” experience more happiness; if you find yourself lacking in meaning, try giving back to others, but if you are lacking in happiness, try being accepting of others’ generosity to give yourself a boost.
19. Worry, stress, and anxiety are more likely to be felt by those whose lives are high in meaningfulness and low in happiness; this indicates that you shouldn’t get too down about experiencing negative emotions if you have a strong sense of meaning—a little negative emotion can actually be a good thing!
20. An intention to express your authentic self and a sense of strong personal identity is linked to meaning, but not to happiness; if you are searching for meaning, try working on your practice of authenticity.