How Positive Thinking Affects Feeling Of Happiness

Dyachenko T.M. (2015). How Positive Thinking Affects Feeling of Happiness. Scientific- Practical Conference with International Participation. Murmansk State Humanitarian University, Murmansk, Russia, p. 85-90


Annotation. The article shows the result of an experiment with American college students. The experiment was called “Count Your Blessings Experiment.” Volunteers agreed to write down in their journal ten blessings every day for one month. The conducted experiment demonstrates the significant effect of writing positive thoughts about life (counting blessings) on improving and increasing subjective well-being (feelings of happiness).

 Key words: positive thinking, feeling of happiness, subjective well-being, self-esteem, gender differences.

Аннотация. В статье освещается результат эксперимента с американскими студентами высшего учебного заведения. Эксперимент назывался « За что ты благодарен в жизни».Участники в течение месяца каждый день писали в своем дневнике 10 вещей,за которые они благодарны в своей жизни. Результаты эксперимента показали, что позитивные мысли о своей жизни, написанные в дневнике, значительно подняли уровень субъективного благополучия (ощущения счастья) участников .

Ключевые слова: позитивное мышление, чувство счастья, субъективное благополучие, самооценка, гендерные различия.


   In recent years, the importance of life satisfaction and positive thinking has been researched by numerous scholars. Positive Psychology is a new field within Cognitive Psychology which develops theories to explain how positive thinking affects subjective well-being, emotions, mood, and physical health.

   Objective well-being, which may be related to wealth and income, is theorized to contribute to subjective well-being. Affluent cultures (such as the U.S.A., Switzerland, Denmark, and so on), with high GDP indices (Gross Domestic Product per capita) show higher levels of subjective well-being. Yet countries with lower GDP indices (such as Mexico, Columbia, Salvador, and Venezuela), also present the same level of subjective well-being. This appears to mean that the level of happiness depends not so much on material and objective things, but rather, on the ability to perceive positive aspects of life, and to feel grateful for these. [1]

   Caparara, et al. (2005, 2006) reported that there is a link between positive thinking and life satisfaction, self-esteem, and optimism. A longitudinal study on successful adaptation from childhood to adulthood shows that adolescents who can create positive expectations for the future have higher self-esteem, perceive a sense of satisfaction in their lives, and experience more positive emotions.[2]

    Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., the founder of Positive Psychology, noted that psychological tools for increasing happiness have a lot of benefits, and can replace traditional therapy, which usually involves analyzing pain from childhood or using medication for depression and anxiety. [3]

  The hypothesis of this study was that practicing positive thinking on a daily basis would increase subjective wellbeing (positive emotions and feelings of happiness).

    The study sample comprised 115 people.  The participants were, specifically, 61 male and 54 female students of a psychology course at a community college in Arizona, U.S.A. The experiment was conducted in the Fall semester of 2014, and the Spring semester of 2015. Participants' ages ranged from 17 to 55 years old, with the mean age being 23 years old.


   The method used in the present study was an experiment. The students were divided into two groups: an experimental group and a control group. The students were given their choice of which group to join, according to their desire to participate in the study and earn extra points in the course. The experimental group consisted of volunteers (15 men and 24 women) who agreed to count their blessings every day for one month. Participants were directed to handwrite in their journals ten sentences about what they are thankful for every day. Every week, participants presented their journals to the director of the study.  The control group was not exposed to any conditions relating to

This journal writing but attended the same class as students from the experimental group. There was a total of three community college classes participating, and each class had students in an experimental group and in a control group. The experiment started on Week Two of each respective semester and lasted one month.

   At the beginning of the experiment, all the participants were given as a pretest The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire [4].  They also took the self-assessment Self-Esteem designed by Dembo-Rubinstein. Participants ranked various qualities on a scale from 0 to 10. The 10 qualities to rank were:  Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Appearance, Body Health, Mental Fitness, Work or School Success, Communication Skills, Leadership, Finance, and Quality of Life. Self-esteem was calculated as a sum of all scores. During the experiment, the participants were not given any instruction about what kind of blessings or things for which they are grateful they were supposed to write down.  At the end of the month, the class was given as a post-test the same test they’d taken as a pretest, The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.

   Statistical analysis was conducted to process data (average, t-test and correlation) using Excel Software. The result of The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire shows that the average score for the whole sample is 4.00, which corresponds to the level “Somewhat happy or moderately happy/Satisfied” (from 4 to 5 points on the scale of happiness). After the experiment, the average score on the post-test of the whole sample was a little higher, 4.19, and stayed within the same happiness level.

   The average self-esteem level for the sample is 70.49 (69.61 for women and 71.02 for men), which is considered to be high. This supports the idea about a “better than average effect” in American culture, meaning normative Americans evaluate themselves as better than the average person according to Wylie (1979) [5].  There is a moderate positive correlation between the level of happiness and self-esteem (r=0.32). This means people with higher self-esteem are happier.

   An analysis of gender differences shows that for men, there is a positive correlation between the level of happiness and self-esteem (r=0.41). For women, there is no statistically significant correlation between those two parameters (r=-0.14). This can be explained, following gender role theory, as a goal-directed behavior for men. Men are expected to reach their goals and demonstrate competency and are culturally evaluated as people by these behaviors. It is theorized that this traditional gender role affects men’s level of happiness. Women’s happiness, by contrast, does not appear to depend on their achievement and competency (however culturally defined), but more on human relationships. This could explain why women’s levels of happiness have no statistical association with self-esteem.

    On the pretest of The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (prior to the experiment), the average score for the experimental group was 4.14, and for the control group 3.92; but according to t-test, this difference was not statistically significant. On the post-test (after the experiment), the average for the experimental group was 4.46, and for the control group 4.05; this difference was statistically significant (p= 0.01). This means the level of happiness at the beginning of the experiment was the same in both groups; after the experiment, people from the experimental group had higher scores on happiness than did the control group.



 As you can see in Figure 1, in the control group the pretest score average is 3.92, and the post-test average is 4.05. This increased by 0.13 points, but the difference is not statistically significant (p=0.34).  In the experimental group, the pretest average score is 4.14, and post-test average 4.51.

The difference is 0.37 and is statistically significant (p=0.02). This means the level of happiness in the control group did not change, and in the experimental group it was raised after the experiment.  Gender differences analysis shows that in the experimental group, men’s happiness increased by 0.57 points, and women’s by 0.14 points.  For men, there is a positive correlation between the level of happiness and the number of days they did the journaling (writing down their blessings). For women, there is no correlation between these two elements. This means that the counting the blessing procedure was more effective for men than for women.



The study discussed shows that American community college students in general have a moderate level of subjective well-being (feeling of happiness), which means that they are satisfied with their lives. Average self-esteem is high in this population, which supports previous research of this type in American culture. There are no gender differences in levels of happiness and self-esteem.

There is a positive correlation between levels of self-esteem and feelings of happiness, and this is especially true for men. The conducted experiment (writing down ten blessings in life every day), demonstrates the significant effect of positive thinking on improving and increasing feelings of happiness. After the experiment, people who wrote down ten blessings they felt they had in life each day for one month had significantly higher levels of happiness. For men, this activity appears to be more beneficial than for women, because post-experiment, men’s levels of happiness were higher and more statistically significant.

The limitation of this research is that there was no comparison between different ages, different academic majors, different professions and different cultures.

In future research, a larger sample would be required to explore these comparisons. It would be interesting to compare levels of happiness and their correlation with self–esteem in different cultures, as well as the effect of positive thinking on happiness and general health. There is also a need for analysis of precisely what things people feel grateful for across diverse cultures.




[1] Indglehart, R., Foa, R., Peterson, C., & Weltzel, C. (2008) Development, freedom, and rising happiness: A global perspective (1987-2007). Perspectives in Psychological Science, 3, 264-285

 [2] Caprara, G.V., & Steca, P. (2005). Affective and social self-regulatory efficacy beliefs as      determinants of positive thinking and happiness. European Psychologist, 10(4), 275-268. 

Caprara G.V., Steca P., Gerbino M., Pacielloi M., &Vecchio, G.M. (2006). Looking for adolescents' well-being: Self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of positive thinking and happiness.  Epidemiol Psichiatr Soc, 15(1), 30-43.

 [3] Seligman, M.E.P. (1990).  Learned Optimism.  New York: Knopf.

 [4] The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.

[5] Wylie, R.C., Miller, P.J., Cowles, S.S., & Wilson, A.S. (1982). The self-concept: vol. 2: theory and research on selected topics. American Journal of Sociology, 87(6), 1443-1446.