Why Does a “Positive Orientation” Matter?

Have you noticed that some people seem to be unfailingly positive about everything that happens to them? If you’re like me, you can’t help but be a little jealous of these people.

As you should be! Psychology research indicates that just generally being a positive person has several advantages.

More on that in a minute. But first things first: what exactly does it mean to talk about someone having a “positive” approach to life?

Psychologists have a more specific term for this. They talk about whether someone has a positive orientation.

Generally, having a positive orientation is defined as having a tendency to make positive evaluations about yourself, your life and your future. The term was coined in a 2010 study suggesting that when people have a positive approach to one of these things, they tend to have a positive approach to the other two as well. Another way of thinking about positive orientation is that it is the common ground between optimism, self-esteem and life satisfaction.

You probably already have a sense that having a positive orientation is, well, a positive thing. And when it comes to mental health, that’s exactly what researchers have found.

For example, it turns out that people with a positive orientation tend to have higher job satisfaction. A major reason for this link seems to be that people with a positive orientation are better at maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In fact, a team of researchers showed in 2015 that the association between positive orientation and job satisfaction can be entirely explained by work-life balance.

People with a positive orientation aren’t just happier at work, though. In fact, they appear to be happier … everywhere. A study just published by psychologists from Poland showed that people with a positive orientation tend to have higher levels of happiness. This appears to be the case both for “hedonic happiness,” which is about deriving pleasure from life, or “eudemonic happiness,” which is about finding meaning and self-fulfillment more generally.

So that’s good news for people with a positive orientation. But it turns out that there’s hope for those without a positive orientation too.

In particular, a 2014 study suggests that people tend to develop more of a positive orientation as they get older. In other words, people may on average become more positive as they progress through life. And if that’s not reason to be positive about the future, I don’t know what is!