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

People who have positive psychological well-being may be more likely to engage in heart-healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking, all behaviors that also reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

These researchers reviewed the evidence linking well-being and health behaviors, and described strategies to enhance well-being studied by others, and the implications for cardiovascular health.

The authors categorize interventions designed to enhance well-being as:

  • Expressing gratitude—writing letters of gratitude or listing things for which a person is grateful (counting blessings).
  • Acts of kindness—things a person does to benefit someone else that involve a sacrifice or cost to the doer (donating blood or visiting an elderly relative, for example).
  • Mindfulness—meditative practices to cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.
  • Optimism—thinking positively about the future and imagining having success in accomplishing life goals (such as those related to relationships, career, and health).

Most well-being interventions were short-term in duration (6 to 12 weeks), inexpensive to implement, and conducted without a clinician. Well-being was found to be a consequence of engaging in the behaviors described, and that may lead to healthier behaviors, creating a “virtuous cycle” that contributes to cardiovascular health.


This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.

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Have you thanked someone today? This gesture may help improve your cardiovascular health and well-being.