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Find your happy

Having an optimistic outlook has physical, mental and emotional benefits. Steal these tips for staying positive even when times are tough.

Stacey Colino By Stacey Colino

We probably don’t need to convince you that having a positive outlook on life is a good thing. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy? But you might be surprised to learn just how good positive emotions are for your body and mind.

For example, several studies show that having an upbeat mental attitude is linked to health benefits such as:1

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Healthier blood sugar levels
  • A healthier weight

“Positivity maximizes health outcomes at every level,” says Michele Ford, Ph.D. She’s a licensed psychologist and psychology professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “People with a positive mindset live longer and more healthfully, even with illness. And they have a lower risk of depression.”

Of course, staying positive isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes a little work to tilt your outlook in a positive direction. Need ideas for those times when you’re feeling more down than up? Here are some simple, free and enjoyable ways to get more positivity into your everyday life.


Hang out with positive people

When you spend time with upbeat, supportive people, you feel a sense of connection. Social connection is good for just about every part of your physical and emotional well-being, says Nancy Haugen, Ph.D. She’s a clinical psychologist in San Francisco and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

What’s more, being around positive people gives you a chance to feel inspired by their feel-good moods. Then you can borrow their strategies for coping with difficult situations, Ford says. That friend who does goofy dances with her dog after a stressful day? She’s on to something.


Tune in to your senses

“The vast majority of the data your body deals with comes from inside you, including the senses,” says Haugen. So pause occasionally and ask yourself: What am I hearing right now? What do I see? Feel? Smell? Taste? “The body is always present. But the mind often isn’t,” Haugen says. Focusing on your senses can help ground you in your body and in the present moment. That has a calming, rebooting effect.


Volunteer for something you believe in

Volunteering has been shown to have a positive effect on people’s sense of happiness and satisfaction with life.2 It comes back to that feeling of social connection that builds when you work side by side with others toward something good. Plus, regular volunteering has a stress-busting effect that helps improve emotional well-being.3 Those are just a few great reasons to sign up to volunteer at a community center or nonprofit. Choose one that has special meaning to you. Perhaps there’s even one that has helped you out in the past and you’d like to give back.


Have an attitude of gratitude

Keeping track of the people and things you’re grateful for can help lower symptoms of depression and deliver more peace of mind.4 “Keeping a gratitude journal changes how you feel,” Haugen says. There’s something about writing down what you’re thankful for that flips a switch in your mind from negativity to positivity, she says. Look for positive moments every day. And take a moment to write them down and be thankful for them. Small stuff totally counts. Some examples:

  • A cozy warm towel after a shower
  • Something delicious for dinner
  • A pattern of colorful flower petals that catches your eye
  • A phone call from your favorite niece
  • Curling up on the couch with your dog or cat to watch your favorite show


Do acts of kindness

You’ve felt it before — that little mood lift that comes from doing a kind deed for someone. So what if you kept the acts of kindness going for seven days straight? You’d increase your sense of happiness and well-being, according to a study.5

The researchers found that it doesn’t matter whether you’re being kind to someone you know well or a stranger. But they did find that more is better: The more kind acts someone performed, the more their happiness grew. It can be a small act, like paying a compliment or calling a friend who’s having a hard time. “Even if it’s just a smile, being kind is one of the things that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of your well-being,” Haugen says.


Stay active

Research has found that getting regular exercise promotes positive emotions. And on the flip slide, people who have better moods are more likely to be more active. In other words, exercise and a positive outlook tend to go hand in hand.6 “Exercising helps you feel empowered,” Ford says.


Use positive self-talk

When you’re facing a challenge or dealing with a setback, don’t let negative thoughts or fear of failure hold you back. Instead, take a moment to think about your past successes and other problems you’ve overcome, Ford suggests. Remembering the inner strength that has helped you in the past can give you the confidence you need to tackle what’s next. It can help to use positive affirmations, says Ford. Some examples:

  • “I can handle this.”
  • “I’m more resourceful than I think.”
  • “This too shall pass.”

Don’t just say it once — repeat the affirmation several times to yourself. That works to train your brain to believe what you’re saying. And when you believe you can do something, you’re more likely to act like you can do it too.


1NIH News in Health. Positive emotions and your health. August 2015. Accessed June 12, 2022.

2Lawton RN, Gramatki I, Watt W, et al. Does volunteering make us happier, or are happier people more likely to volunteer? Addressing the problem of reverse causality when estimating wellbeing impacts of volunteering. Journal of Happiness Studies. March 2020; 22: 599-624.

3Han SH, Kim K, and Burr JA. Stress-buffering effects of volunteering on daily well-being: evidence from the national study of daily experiences. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. October 2020; 75(8): 1731-1740.

4Liang H, Chen C, Li F, et al. Mediating effects of peace of mind and rumination on the relationship between gratitude and depression among Chines university students. Current Psychology, April 2018; 39: 1430-1437.

5Rowland L and Curry OS. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of Social Psychology. May 2019; 159(3): 340-343.

6Leibow MS, Lee JW and Morton KR. Exercise, flourishing, and the positivity ratio in seventh-day adventists: a prospective study. American Journal of Health Promotion, January 2021; 35(1): 48-56.



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