The Top 6 Benefits of a Positive Attitude

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the top benefits of a positive attitude? How can an optimistic outlook improve your personal and professional life?

There are many powerful benefits of a positive attitude. For a start, it can improve your mood and mindset—but it can also have great benefits for those around you.

Keep reading for the six best benefits of a positive attitude.

The Benefits of a Positive Atittude

The benefits of a positive attitude are deeper than feeling good—happiness has measurable, lasting effects on your mind and body. Here are the best six benefits of a positive attitude:

1. Mental and Emotional Benefits 

First, positive emotions release dopamine and serotonin, which make you feel good while also activating your brain’s learning centers. This effect improves your ability to:

  • Think quickly and creatively
  • Analyze
  • Problem-solve
  • Organize and store new information
  • Be open to new ideas

A number of studies have illustrated the cognitive benefits of happiness: 

  • Doctors who were primed with candy—which boosted their moods—correctly diagnosed patients twice as quickly as doctors who received no candy.
  • Four-year-olds put blocks together more quickly if they were asked to think about something happy before starting the task.
  • Students who were told to recall the best day of their lives before commencing a standardized math test performed better than their classmates.

Additionally, positive emotions reduce stress and anxiety in a phenomenon psychologists call “the undoing effect.” Some amount of stress in life or in work is inevitable, but when a stressful event or situation is imminent—for example, you have to make a presentation at an important meeting this afternoon—you may be able to mitigate that stress by focusing on happy memories or watching a funny video. 

2. Physical Benefits of Happiness 

Happiness doesn’t just make you feel better emotionally, it also makes you feel better physically. In one experiment, researchers surveyed participants about their levels of happiness, and then injected them with the cold virus. The following week, researchers found that the happier participants fought off the virus more quickly and had fewer objective symptoms than their less happy peers. Additionally, research revealed that unhappy workers take 15 more sick days each year than their happy coworkers—this means that companies can increase productivity and decrease absenteeism and healthcare costs by creating a happy work environment. 

3. Professional Benefits 

Given the cognitive and physical benefits of happiness, it should be no surprise that research shows that positivity increases productivity at work. One study followed 275 employees over 18 months and found that those who were happiest at the beginning received better pay and evaluations by the end of the period, even when controlling for other factors. In another study, researchers found that happier undergraduates earned higher incomes 19 years later than their unhappy classmates, regardless of initial wealth levels. 

4. Managerial Benefits 

Studies show that positive psychology can help managers increase customer satisfaction by 42 percent and CEOs increase their productivity by 15 percent. Even in the most stressful environments, the principles of the Happiness Advantage have brought positive results to a wide range of businesses across 40 countries and five continents, including: 

  • A business community operating in Zimbabwe’s collapsed economy 
  • Big bank employees in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis
  • Law schools and law firms, where students and employees suffer from high rates of depression and mental distress 
  • Hundreds of managers at a tax auditing firm during the first tax season following the 2008 stock market drop

The managers at the tax auditing firm felt less stressed and more satisfied with life after three hours of positive psychology training than managers who had not attended the training. Furthermore, those higher scores held up four months later, at the height of tax season. 

Additionally, developing a positive thought pattern makes it easier to practice the habits below:

  • Recognizing employees’ strengths and giving them positive feedback
  • Raising the Losada Line ratio of positive-to-negative comments
  • Cultivating greater gratitude for your work and thereby perceiving it as a calling rather than simply a job or career

5. Motivational Benefits

We’ve discussed the benefits of positivity and some strategies to raise your happiness, but sometimes the biggest obstacles are your own persistent, negative thoughts. Think of your mind as a seesaw. If a light person sits on one end and a heavy person sits on the other, the heavy person will be on the ground while the light person will be suspended in the air. However, if you place the fulcrum (the center point on which the lever balances) closer to the heavy person, that person will be easier to lift. When it comes to being happier, if your mind is entrenched in negative thought, it’s like moving the fulcrum away from the heavy object—it becomes very difficult to lift. On the other hand, if you focus on more positive thoughts, you leverage the power of your fulcrum by moving it closer to the heavy object, and your power for positivity is unbounded. 

6.The Benefit for Others

Additionally, your happiness creates ripple effects that benefit the people around you. Just one positive person on a team unwittingly infects her colleagues with positivity, which increases their individual performances as well as the collaboration and success of the group as a whole. In fact, emotional contagion is so strong that each workplace develops a distinct group emotion, or “group affective tone,” which creates emotion norms that are reflected in the office culture and behavior. For example, a company with an optimistic emotion norm will likely greet challenges with more confidence and enthusiasm than an office with a more negative norm. 

From entry-level employees to C-suite executives, anyone can use the principles we’ve described to raise their happiness baseline, and the positive effects will inevitably spread to the people around them. You have the power to be happier and more successful, and to make the people around you happier and more successful, as well. 

The above benefits of a positive attitude reveals how becoming more positive can dramatically change every area of your life.

The Top 6 Benefits of a Positive Attitude

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  • How happiness isn’t the result of success, it’s the cause of it
  • The benefits of happiness—from increased creativity to improved health
  • Strategies for adopting a positive mindset and raising your happiness baseline

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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