Exploring the Concept of Positive Health

Building on advances in Positive Psychology, the emerging field of Positive Health is examining whether factors such as optimism and happiness may lead to better health and well-being.

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.

What is Positive Health?

According to Martin Seligman, 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." It builds on Seligman's advances in the field of Positive Psychology, which applies validated interventions to boost the strengths and virtues that help individuals thrive emotionally in daily life.  

From 2008-2015, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Seligman and a team of researchers conducted studies to help identify which specific health assets lead to lower disease risk and longer, healthy life. These assets might range from biological factors such as heart rate variability, to subjective or functional factors, such as optimism or a stable marriage.

Some Key Findings

  • Men and women with high levels of negative emotion were more likely to die prematurely than those with lower levels of negative emotion.

  • People with higher life satisfaction are likely to be more optimistic, socially engaged, and supported—and manage health problems better.

The below sampling of articles provides an initial body of analysis on the potential for personal health strengths to provide a buffer against physical and mental illness and path to better overall health. Additional research and resources are available on the Positive Health project website.