How do Positive Emotions Impact the Heart?

There are a huge number of factors that determine and impact the heart’s wellbeing. These include diet, physical activity, lifestyle, family history, and many others. Surprisingly, emotions are one of the factors that can greatly impact the health and functionality of the heart. It has long been known that there is a direct connection between negative emotions and heart problems. Numerous studies have shown how such emotions or depression can be a detriment to one’s health. However, what about positive emotions? Do positive emotions have a positive impact on the health of the heart? Recent studies have shown that they do. Positive emotions benefit the health of the heart as well as the person’s overall health.

Positive emotions promote healthy behavior

Happy people do not need to turn to smoking, alcohol, or drugs to feel happy – they are perfectly content with life. Positive emotions drive people forward and motivate them to make plans for the future, to grow, and get the most out of life. People who have a positive outlook on life are much less likely to engage in unhealthy activities that will only hurt them and to harm to their body.  Most are motivated to live a healthy lifestyle complete with a balanced and healthy diet and daily exercise. Such lifestyle choices improve the person’s overall state of health and the health of the heart.

Physiological responses

A positive outlook on life has also been known to have a positive impact on the person’s physiological responses. Happy people rarely suffer from lack of sleep or any other form of insomnia. A healthy amount of sleep regenerates and rejuvenates the body, keeping it healthy and strong. Positive emotions also increase the level of antioxidants in the body. It was also determined that such emotions increase the amount of HDL, the good cholesterol in the blood. This has a direct positive impact on a person’s heart.

Positive emotions reduce stress

It is no secret that stress is one of the major causes/triggers for many illnesses. When the body is put under stress, it cannot function normally and keep itself healthy. As a result, stress can become a cause of practically every health problem. Short term stress can cause headaches, stomach aches, and even a stroke. Long term and chronic stress can do serious damage to every single part of the body. Fortunately, positive emotions have the ability to absorb stress, or at least significantly reduce it. Thus, a positive attitude can help keep you stress-free and healthy!

A health study done by Laura Kubzansky 1

Laura Kubzansky, an Associate Professor of Society, Human Development and Health at Harvard University performed several studies to determine whether there is a connection between optimism, emotional vitality and heart health. In 2001, she and her team did a study focusing on optimistic people. The results showed that highly optimistic people had half the risk of suffering from heart disease as did pessimistic individuals. The 2007 study focused on emotional vitality which is a person’s healthy interest in their own life and the world around them. The study showed that individuals with emotional vitality had a 20% lower risk of having heart disease than those without emotional vitality.

A health study done by Lisa Yanek and team 2

Recently, Lisa Yanek, an Assistant Professor at John Hopkins University, and her team published a study in the American Journal of Cardiology. The goal of this study was to determine whether there is a relationship between a person’s positive emotional wellbeing and the risk of heart disease. The study analyzed the data of 1500 people. These individuals were healthy but had siblings who were diagnosed with coronary artery disease before the age of 60. For a period of 22 years, these individuals took part in physical examinations and filled out surveys that measured their overall wellbeing. A positive wellbeing was characterized by a lack of depression and the presence of a positive look on life, cheerfulness, and high life satisfaction. The results showed that a positive outlook on life significantly decreased the chance of heart disease even in people who were at risk for this condition. In fact, positive emotions decreased the chance of heart disease by one third in people with a family history of heart disease, and by almost one half in people with an extremely high risk of developing heart disease.

How to maintain a positive attitude

Unfortunately, life is full of problems and difficulties and nobody is fortunate enough to avoid them. It is how we react to these problems that makes all the difference. Not everybody is born an extreme optimist.  Thus, it is up to each person individually to maintain and regulate a positive level of emotion. People need to learn to face the challenges, accept them for what they are, and not let these challenges affect their overall emotional state. Interestingly enough, a study done by Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California, showed that we control approximately 40% of our happiness. It is also known that the person’s overall state of happiness is approximately the same at all times during life. The level of happiness may take a short leap or dive in moments of great fortune or misfortune, but these changes are temporary. After a month or so, the person’s level of happiness returns back to its normal level. So, the big question is: what can a person do to be happy?

Here are some tips:

  • Smile! Smile! Smile! Numerous studies have shown that smiling significantly improves the daily mood and decreases stress. A positive daily mood has a positive effect on the overall wellbeing. The best thing about the smile is that it is easy and free. So, smile and be happy!
  • Exercise! Exercise is a great way to lift one’s spirits. In fact, exercise has been shown to produce the happiness hormone in the body.  It will lift your mood and keep your body and heart healthy at the same time.
  • Regular sleep. Getting enough sleep can go a long way towards making a person feel positive and optimistic.
  • Relationships. The building and developing of a relationship can be a source of happiness that has no equal. It affects both the person’s immediate level of happiness and the long-term one.
  • Expressions of gratitude. Valuing what you have and seeing the good in it can significantly lift one’s base level of happiness. One of the things you can do is keep a journal. Every day, write down three good things you are grateful for.
  • Remembering the positive. Think about the good things and not the bad ones. It is a great idea to write down at least 3 good things that happened each day.
  • Random acts of kindness. By helping somebody else from your heart, you are helping two people – them and yourself. Kindness can bring a lot of happiness into your life.
  • Meditation can help a person relax and release all the negative emotions that have been festering within them. With the negative emotions gone, there is that much more space for the positive emotions.

Life is not perfect – it is full of problems and difficulties. The key to staying healthy is not trying to eliminate these difficulties – that is impossible. The key is learning how to bounce back from these problems and to learn to be happy in spite of them. This will keep you positive and your heart – healthy!


1 “Take it to heart: Positive emotions may be good for health”. Aug 15, 2011.

2  “Are positive emotions good for the heart?”.  Adam Hoffman.  July 31, 2013.