Positivity: The Psychology, Definition, and Examples
What is positivity? Why is positivity important to cultivate? And how do you increase your positivity? Here are some strategies.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
What Is Positivity?
Positivity is the practice or tendency to be positive or optimistic in life. When we are positive, we engage in positive thinking, have positive emotions, and engage in positive behaviors like kindness and generosity. All if this positivity contributes to positive outcomes like improved well-being (take our well-being quiz) and mental health.
What Are the Parts of Positivity?
Positivity is made up of positive thinking, positive emotions, and positive behaviors. Here are some examples of what each of these may include.
The Power of Positivity
Positivity is made up of different components, each of which has different, but mostly positive, impacts on our lives. For example, self-focused positive thinking tends to be good for well-being and buffer the effects of stress (Taylor & Brown, 1994). So try using strategies like self-compassion and self-kindness to grow this aspect of positivity. It is likely also beneficial for us to improve our feelings of self-worth and self-confidence (Miller Smedema, Catalano, & Ebener, 2010).
Future-focused positivity thinking and optimism tend to help us have better well-being, social relationships, and cope better with stress (Taylor & Brown, 1994). Similarly, present focused positive thinking—for example about how much control we have over stressful situations—generally helps us cope better (Crum, Akinola, Martin, & Fath, 2017).
5 of the Best Positivity Books
Video: Research on Positivity
Examples of Positivity
Here are some examples of positivity. Use these examples to help build your own positivity habit.
Lots of research has shown that prior knowledge supports memory (Newberry & Bailey, 2019). When our brains have more information on a topic, the easier it is to recall anything related to that topic. By this logic, the more positive information, words, and memories we have related to positive things, the easier is should be to be positive.
Research has already shown that we can improve cognitive functions (like memory and attention) in ways that enhance positivity and well-being (Villani, Serino, Triberti, & Riva, 2017). For example, training people to focus on the positive over the negative contributes to improvement in well-being (MacLeod, et al., 2002; Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2008).
Overall, this suggests that strengthening our brain in ways that increase our positive knowledge should help us increase positivity. One way to do this is to memorize positive words. Check out our positivity workbook for a science-based positive word collection (Bradley & Lang, 1999).
Here are some practices that can help you increase your positivity.
1. Write gratitude notes
Gratitude notes are notes of appreciation written for specific people. Ask yourself:
Once you've answered these questions, write out a note or text message to give to this person. By sharing your gratitude you can amplify and extend your positivity.
Here are a few more science-based gratitude practices for positivity:
2. Write a self-compassion letter
Have you every heard people say, "You can't love someone else until you love yourself?" Now, I don't know if there is science to back this up, but certainly self-compassion is a key aspect of positivity. Being comfortable in your own skin—and finding your true self—can make it easier to accept others as they are and give and receive love more easily. To build your self-compassion, one research-based strategy is to write a self-compassion letter (Shapira & Mongrain, 2010). This letter is kind and comforting. You basically talk to yourself like you were a small child. Here's the self-compassion letter activity if you need more help.
3. Positive attention
Numerous studies show that training our attention away from negative things and onto positive things improves our well-being (MacLeod, et al., 2002; Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2008). So to grow your positivity, try to shift your attention to the positive over the negative.
4. Positive reappraisal
Positive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy where we look for silver linings in an otherwise challenging situation. We can try to find the benefits or downplay the negative parts until we feel a bit better about the situation. Here is a positive reappraisal activity to try to practice this skill.
Doing positivity meditations can shift your mood and help you develop a more positive mindset. Doing these types of meditations regularly (each day or even once a week) can give you the opportunity to focus on your goal to increase positivity and prioritize this goal in your life. Below, I've included a few of my favorite positivity meditation videos.
Video: Positivity Guided Meditation
Video: Positivity Meditation (No words)
Positivity vs. Negativity
In some ways, negativity is the opposite of positivity, just as optimism is often contrasted with pessimism. But we have to remember that each of us developed our emotional styles for a reason. And forcing negativity to turn into positivity may not work well. For example, inducing a positive mood in pessimists not only hurts performance, it makes them even more anxious. For some of us, worry is used to explore potentially negative outcomes, and this helps reduce anxiety (Norem & Chang, 2002). So just be thoughtful about how you feel and whether positivity is right for you in each situation.
Video: Why positivity is so hard and negativity is so easy
True Positivity vs False Positivity
The thing about positivity is that it's not so great for us if we don't mean it or we're not being genuine. False positivity is when we feel we are being forced to be positive or put on a happy face even when we're feeling sad or bad. Given suppression and other forms of emotional avoidance are not good for well-being, it's not surprising that false positivity also doesn't feel so good. Given authenticity is so important for well-being, it's more important that you be yourself and be true to your feelings than squash them down just for the sake of being positive.
Some of us are more visual and we can generate more positivity from visuals than from thought exercises or meditations. If that sounds like you, here are some positivity images that are likely to boost your mood. Take a moment to just take these in, savoring any positive emotions that arise.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Beat Negativity
Sometimes there are negative thought patterns that get in the way of our positivity. We want to feel more positive, but we also feel stuck--My life sucks, I don't have X, or Positivity is impossible. Ask yourself, are you stuck using any of these negative thinking styles:
These negative thinking styles can get us stuck in our negativity and make it difficult to boost positivity. So try challenging these thinking styles.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Boost Positivity
Sometimes we just need to get our mind primed to think in more positive ways. Here are few questions to get your mind active:
More Reading on Positivity
Here are a few more articles that you may be interested in:
In Sum: Cultivating an Positivity Mindset
If you want to be more positive, you can be. Just be sure to take it slow and don't force positivity when you don't feel like it. The more you practice and build these positivity skills, the greater your positivity can become.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.