Researchers at Harvard Medical School believe that the link between a positive attitude and physical health is worth investigating. Harvard’s Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program invites patients to take part in a trial combining positivity enhancing techniques from positive psychology with goal setting and coaching. The aim of the trial is to improve heart health for people experiencing and being treated for heart disease.

Cultivating an attitude of grattitude

The Harvard team have devised a 16 week program for patients with heart disease who were about to be discharged. The program tasks patients with practicing techniques that encourage a positive attitude, including:

  • Penning letters of gratitude
  • Acts of kindness
  • Reflecting on past successes

Each week the patients are contacted by a trainer from the program to review their experiences of practicing the techniques over the previous week. During the weekly catch ups, progress is discussed and the positivity message is emphasised and then new goals are set for the week ahead.

The benefits of positivity

The program so far has delivered some great results. Professionals monitoring the program have discovered that patients are keen to sign up to the program, as the small, incremental steps required set appealing yet realistic goals to work towards. So far those taking part in the program have shown:

  • increased happiness
  • decreased depression
  • decreased anxiety

What the future holds

The Harvard team is set to begin further research which examines the links between positivity and improved physical health. Specifically, research will examine whether a positive attitude can have the effect of reducing cardiac events, hospital admissions and overall health care costs.

Although it’s too early to say whether there is a direct link between positivity and a longer life, the many benefits measured by the study to date has encouraged the research team to delve deeper.

How you can experience the benefits of positivity

There are a number of techniques from positive psychology that have been shown to increase positivity. Along with the techniques used in this study, why not try:

  • socialising with friends
  • spending time in nature
  • maintaining a daily gratitude journal
  • practicing self-compassion – this could be taking time to read a book or listening to a favourite piece of music
  • practicing mindfulness

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