Psychology of well being: Positive affect and Meaningful Life

To understand Psychology of well-being, we must focus on the factors that contribute to a person’s sense of happiness, life satisfaction, fulfillment and overall mental health.

According to American psychological association (APA) well-being is a a state of happiness and contentment, with low levels of distress, overall good physical and mental health and outlook, or good quality of life.

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Psychology eeks to identify the processes and interventions that promote well-being.


What is Positive Affect?:      

APA defines Positive Affect as the internal feeling state (affect) that occurs when a goal has been attained, a source of threat has been avoided, or the individual is satisfied with the present state of affairs. In simpler words, it is the satisfactory feeling one has upon accomplishing set goals or tasks.

According to Selligman, individuals high on this dimension experience frequent and intense episodes of pleasant, pleasurable mood; generally speaking, they are cheerful, enthusiastic, energetic, confident, and alert. Whereas, those persons who are low in positive affectivity report substantially reduced levels of happiness, excitement, vigor, and confidence.

The functions of emotions like fear and disgust have been established long ago. Ex: Fear motivates organisms to escape from situations of potential threat or danger, whereas disgust helps to keep them away from noxious and toxic substances. However, it is only recently that the evolutionary functions of positive emotions gained focus. Positive emotions builds lasting psychological, social, and intellectual capital, boosting our resilience and psychological wellbeing. 

Effects of Positive Affect on well being:

Individuals who are high in positive affectivity feel good about themselves and their world. Consequently, they report greater satisfaction with important aspects of their lives. These overall satisfactions also acts as a motivator to pursue new things and maintain a steady pace in life.

Low levels of positive affectivity are associated with a number of clinical syndromes, including social phobia, agoraphobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorder, and the substance disorders (Mineka, Watson, & Clark, 1998; Watson, 2000).


Factors affecting Positive affectivity:

  1. Interpersonal relations (family, marriage, romantic relations etc.)
  2. Quality of work and level of employment/ income
  3. Childhood experiences
  4. Mental heath related variables, etc.


Enhancing overall level of Positive Affectivity:

Positive affect is more related to action than to thought, such that it is easier to induce a state of high positive affect through doing than through thinking. High levels of positive mood are most likely when a person is focused outward and is actively engaging in the environment.

Contemporary researchers emphasize that it is the process of striving after goals— rather than goal attainment per se—that is crucial for happiness and positive affectivity (Watson, 2000). Myers and Diener (1995) express this point quite nicely, concluding that “happiness grows less from the passive experience of desirable circumstances than from involvement in valued activities and progress toward one’s goals”.

It is essential that we perceive these things to be important and as representing goals that are well worth pursuing. In other words, although little of what we do in life really is important, it is crucial that we do them, and that we see them as important.

Those who attempt to perform complex tasks during naturally occurring low points are likely to feel frustrated and incompetent because they lack the physical and mental resources to tackle them efficiently. Thus, by monitoring our moods and becoming more sensitive to these internal rhythms, we should be able to maximize feelings of efficacy and enjoyment, while minimizing stress and frustration.

Adequate amounts of sleep are essential to maintaining energy and alertness, sleep deprivation leads to reduced levels of positive affect in many individuals (Thayer, 1996).

Meaning of “Meaningful Life”:

Meaning in life is defined as, a sense of one’s life having a purpose or investing time and energy into the attainment of cherished goals (e.g., Ryff & Singer, 1998).

A meaningful life can be acquired if a person is self satisfied in the different areas of life like work quality and income, social relations, their health etc. Outside the context of coping, research has demonstrated that meaningful activities are often associated with enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Positive affect expands our cognitive functioning, broadens our perspective and helps in efficient management of multiple things in our lives.

“Positivity can uniquely revitalize your worldview, your mental energy, your relationships, and your potential” (Fredrickson, 2010, p. 14).


  • Positive affect helps people to better cope with negative emotions and adversity and reduce the risks of falling prey to chronic health issues later in life. A positive outlook to life helps in broadening our perspective and helps in building resilience. Positive affect helps give meaning to our life, and its essential to emphasize the importance of incorporating practices like mindfulness, gratitude, and social connection into daily life to nurture positive affect that will help an individual thrive.
  • While positive affect is generally natural to some, others may find it difficult to develop and enhance, but it can be easier to cultivate through activities like journaling, indulging oneself into a hobby and even meditation, to increase self awareness and work on it accordingly.


Handbook of Positive Psychology ( C. R. Snyder, Shane J. Lopez)

Positive Affect and the Experience of Meaning in Life (Laura A. King, Joshua A. Hicks, Jennifer L. Krull, and Amber K. Del Gaiso)

APA Dictionary of Psychology

Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. John Wiley & Sons.

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Free Press.

Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.). (2009). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.



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