The Benefits of Happiness: Research Suggests Positive Emotions Can Reduce the Likelihood of Developing Anxiety and Depressive Disorders

By Anna Stone

Edited by Dr. Johanna Peetz and Dr. Marina Milyavskaya

I am a graduate student studying Psychology, and a researcher at the Mental Health and Well-Being Training Hub (MeWeRTH) at Carleton University. As a student that is very interested in positive psychology, I am interested in examining the benefits positive mental health and well-being can promote in everyday life. While completing research on positive mental health and well-being, an article by Rackoff and Newman published in 2020 stood out to me because it emphasized the importance that experiencing daily positive emotions can have on one’s mental health and wellness. This research is important because mental health is an important aspect of one’s overall health and greatly impact one’s overall well-being. Furthermore, this research helps explain why some individuals may be more susceptible to developing mental health disorders than others.

In a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and conducted at Pennsylvania State University, Gavin Rackoff, and Michelle Newman explored whether individuals who experienced lower levels of positive emotions on stressful days were more likely to develop depression and/or general anxiety disorders. The researchers highlighted that having positive emotions may buffer against psychopathology by reducing feelings of worry and rumination. In contrast, having more negative emotions when under stress can lower one’s ability to cope with mental health difficulties.

To examine how positive emotions can influence one’s mental health when faced with stressors, Rackoff and Newman examined a community sample of 1,527 participants over the course of seven years. Participants received an initial mental health screening and then, a year and a half later, participated in phone interviews over eight days that assessed daily stress levels and mood. Seven years later, participants’ mental health was reassessed through a phone interview, and participants completed a survey to assess the emotions they experienced during that month. The results suggested that after accounting for  individual’s daily stress and negative emotions, those who experienced fewer positive emotions during stressful days were more likely to develop depression, general anxiety disorder, and experienced lower positive emotions after seven years.

Rackoff and Newman’s investigation furthers the understanding of how positive emotions can influence mental health. In addition, their study supports the idea that clinicians can target positive emotions as an intervention strategy against daily stressors to reduce the risk of developing general anxiety disorders and/or depression.

Mental health and well-being are important to one’s overall functioning and requires further examination. Rackoff and Newman’s article brings further light to understanding that experiencing more daily positive emotions is important for promoting one’s well-being long-term. Many research studies, including some conducted here at Carleton suggests that there are many ways to promote positive moods, such as spending time with others, engaging in physical activity, and/or spending time in nature. As such, finding ways to incorporate more happiness into one’s life may be incredibly important, not only for promoting mental health, but for a happier and healthier future.

Keywords: Mental Health, Well-Being, Positive Emotions



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