Positive Health

Building strengths to improve well-being and protect against illness

The field of medicine has long focused on the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of disease. But health is more than the mere absence of disease. The emerging concept of Positive Health takes an innovative approach to health and well-being that focuses on promoting people’s positive health assets—strengths that can contribute to a healthier, longer life. RWJF's Pioneer Portfolio is funding research to help identify these assets, which might include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage. If identified and validated, the next step would be to design interventions that can help strengthen these health assets so everyone can increase their chances of living a healthier, longer life.

According to Martin Seligman, PhD, project director and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Positive Health encompasses the understanding that "people desire well-being in its own right and they desire it above and beyond the relief of their suffering." Seligman and a team of researchers are working to identify potential health assets and see if they may reveal a variety of potent, low-cost approaches to enhance well-being and help protect against physical and mental illness.

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Contact

University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences

Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD
Project Director

Published Research

The Person-Event Data Environment

The Person-Event Data Environment

In 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the University of Pennsylvania a grant to examine predictors of positive health in the Army.

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Life Satisfaction and Frequency of Doctor Visits

Life Satisfaction and Frequency of Doctor Visits

Whether healthy or ill, people with higher life satisfaction (sometimes called happiness) visit the doctor less than those unhappy. This study looks at factors related to life satisfaction that might lead to decreased health care use and costs.

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Perceived Neighborhood Social Cohesion and Stroke

Perceived Neighborhood Social Cohesion and Stroke

Using the Health and Retirement Study, nationally representative of U.S. adults over the age of 50, this study looks at how the perception of social engagement relates to incidences of stroke.

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Purpose in Life and Reduced Stroke in Older Adults

Purpose in Life and Reduced Stroke in Older Adults

Understanding psychological factors that are linked to health may lead to innovative interventions to protect against disease. This study examines a positive psychological characteristic—purpose in life—and its relationship to stroke.

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Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife

Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife

This study examines the impact optimism has on serum lipids. The researchers posited that higher levels of optimism would be associated with healthier lipid profiles.

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A Prospective Study of Positive Early Life Psychosocial Factors and Favorable Cardiovascular Risk in Adulthood

A Prospective Study of Positive Early Life Psychosocial Factors and Favorable Cardiovascular Risk in Adulthood

This study looks at how protecting and enhancing early life psychosocial assets may lay the foundation for adult heart health.

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Association Between Optimism and Serum Antioxidants in the Midlife in the United States Study

Association Between Optimism and Serum Antioxidants in the Midlife in the United States Study

Optimism—as well as fruit and vegetable consumption and multivitamin use—was found to be positively related to physical health.

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The Promise of Well-Being Interventions for Improving Health Risk Behaviors

The Promise of Well-Being Interventions for Improving Health Risk Behaviors

People who have positive psychological well-being may be more likely to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and avoid smoking, all behaviors that also reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

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From Cardiovascular Disease to Cardiovascular Health: A Quiet Revolution?

From Cardiovascular Disease to Cardiovascular Health: A Quiet Revolution?

Researcher Darwin Labarthe discusses how the longstanding emphasis on cardiovascular disease has at last yielded to a mounting force behind cardiovascular health.

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The Heart's Content:The Association Between Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Health

The Heart's Content:The Association Between Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Health

Satisfaction, happiness, and optimism are not only desirable traits in their own right. They also appear to help protect people from heart disease.

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Can Optimism Decrease the Risk of Illness and Disease Among the Elderly?

Can Optimism Decrease the Risk of Illness and Disease Among the Elderly?

Research suggests that optimistic individuals are more likely to live a healthier and longer life.

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Purpose in Life and Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction Among Older U.S. Adults With Coronary Heart Disease

Purpose in Life and Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction Among Older U.S. Adults With Coronary Heart Disease

Having a feeling of purpose in life may help to protect against heart attacks among older American adults with coronary heart disease.

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Dispositional Optimism Protects Older Adults From Stroke

Dispositional Optimism Protects Older Adults From Stroke

Data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study of people age 50 and older, was used to assess whether individuals with optimistic attitudes had lower incidence of stroke. The study collects information on the health of 22,000 Americans every two years.

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Positive Health on Pioneering Ideas

REad what People are saying about positive health...

...On NBCNews.com: "Positive Outlook Tied to Healthier Cholesterol"

...On CBSNews.com: "Happy Childhood Homes may Lead to Healthier Heart as Adult"

...In Medscape Today News: "Optimism Linked to Higher Antioxidant Levels"

...In The New York Times: "Really? Optimism Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease"

...On TIME's Healthland Blog: "A Happy, Optimistic Outlook May Protect Your Heart"

...In The Huffington Post: "Optimism Could Be The Secret To A Healthy Heart, Study Suggests"

...In The Atlantic: "What We Know Now About How to Be Happy"

...In Men's Health: "The Surprising New Secret to Heart Health"

...In WebMD Health News: "Happiness and Optimism Could Help Reduce Heart Attack Risk"

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