Why it pays to cultivate positivity

Joy. Awe. Amusement. Most of us want more feelings like these.

But did you know that feeling good can affect your body, mind and relationships — even your contributions at work?

Even better news: You have the power to build and broaden positive feelings until they start to build on themselves. You may be pleasantly surprised at the effects.

Your brain on positivity

Feeling happy doesn't just put a smile on your face. Researchers have found it can spur changes in your actual thought patterns, potentially making you more creative and a better problem-solver.

When you're feeling good, you're able to draw connections more easily and you're more willing to try new things. People in the middle of a positive feeling also tend to come up with more new ideas and possible courses of action.

And even if these moments are fleeting, they can build on themselves. The more often you're feeling content, the more you're likely to feel positivity in the future.

Think this is only good news for happy people? In fact, research shows that no matter your current life satisfaction, positivity is something you can practice and get better at.

One way to do it: meditation. Even a few minutes a day can help expand your awareness of things to be grateful for and joyful about. And the effects can last, helping you feel more joy, interest and hope, even on days you don't meditate.

Your social life on positivity

Happiness is contagious.

The decades-long Framingham Heart Study measured happiness among thousands of people and their real-life social networks. The results: It's not just that happy people tend to befriend each other. Rather, the people you're around day to day can make you happier.

Case in point: If a friend who lives close to you becomes happy, your own chance of being happy rises by 25 percent. And that can create a ripple effect.

Next time you need a boost, make a point to "catch" happiness. Try a coffee date with someone you know who brings positive energy. And remember that embracing your own positive emotions can help those around you do the same.

Your body on positivity

Most of us know about the harmful effects of fight-or-flight stress on the body. Built up over time it can strain your body and increase your risk of serious illness.

But there's a flip side: The effects of positive emotions like amusement. Think funny cat videos!

One study found that those who were exposed to a funny or happy video recovered to their resting heart rate twice as fast after a stressful event as those who didn't get a positivity boost.

This doesn't mean you have to force a smile, a laugh or a cheery outlook when you're not feeling it. In fact, that can backfire. But taking time to do the small things that make you feel good is powerful protection against whatever life throws your way.

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