Home All Psychological Well-being Can Shorten the Road to Wellness

Psychological Well-being Can Shorten the Road to Wellness

written by Marie-Josée Shaar 17 May 2017

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

We are in the Age of Transcendence. Today’s workforce wants more than a better car, bigger house, or the newest iPhone. They want to feel that they make a difference, and experience meaning at work.

Competition for talent is fierce. Good workers have more ways than ever to learn about hiring opportunities and to make their interest known. More and more talented individuals are also opening their own businesses.

In this context, it is not surprising that 82% of business and HR leaders worldwide believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage, yet 79% also believe that they have a significant problem with engagement and retention.

Wellness Programs Need to Do More and Do It Better

As a result, having a wellness program or department that offers employees a few physical activity or nutrition campaigns is no longer sufficient to meet modern challenges. Wellness needs to do more and do it better.

What’s my solution for all wellness professionals, you might ask? Build more PERMA in employees. And what does PERMA have to do with health, exactly? As it turns out, it has a huge impact. Here’s what we know from research.

How Positive Emotions Relate to Health:

  • Positive emotions have been found in different studies to be related to an improved immune function and a reduced sensitivity to symptoms when they occur.
  • In the long term, research shows that happy individuals tend to outlive their less contented counterparts.

How Engagement and Optimism Relate to Health

  • People who experience flow while exercising are more likely to continue and thus get greater health benefits.
  • Optimists enjoy greater antibody production and better immune outcomes.
  • Optimists also benefit from lower average blood pressure, and lower instance of coronary heart disease.
  • Optimists have a lower hazard of cancer-related mortality.
  • Optimistic individuals have an approximately 50 percent reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event compared to their pessimistic peers.
  • For every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%. If we consider that, for an adult of average health, the difference between sudden death risk for smokers versus non-smokers is roughly 5-10%, the effect of optimism is massive.

How Relationships Relate to Health:

  • People who feel better socially integrated tend to have reduced risk of abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure.
  • Those who have at least one person with whom to discuss and talk through their problems show fewer signs of aging in their cardiovascular systems.
  • Those who feel they have good support at home have lower blood pressure responses to stressful events.

How Meaning Relates to Health:

  • A high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular events.
  • Every one-point increase on a 6-point purpose-in-life scale results in 27% reduced risk of heart attack and a 22% reduced risk of stroke.

How Accomplishment Relates to Health:

  • Having a sense of accomplishment with regards to our level of physical activity can improve weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and BMI – without changing the amount of exercise we actually do.

These are only some of the study-backed points rallying to show that not only does a sound mind live in a sound body, but also a sound body comes from a sound mind!

Including psychological well-being in wellness programming may at first seem like an additional component that would lengthen and complicate a health promoter’s to-do list, but it is actually the contrary. Consider that most participants have had a lifetime of failed attempts in their food and exercise intentions. Chronic insomnia is also very difficult to cure when addressed in isolation. But if a better mood can positively impact these three other key behaviors by rendering them easier to tackle, then psychological well-being can shorten the road to wellness.

Here’s another benefit: having concrete well-being interventions that don’t add extra time burden on anyone is a big bonus.

Including psychological well-being in a company’s health promotion effort can take you from basic wellness to greater overall well-being. It helps us do more, and do it better. It refines the tone the wellness offer and contributes to an organizational culture that is a potential competitive advantage.

Author’s Note: This is the shortened version of my recently published white paper. For the full text with additional points and all the in-text citations connecting information to source, please sign up for my newsletter on mjshaar.com



Selected Sources:

Boehm, J. K., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The heart’s content: The association between psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychological Bulletin, 138(4), 655-691. doi:10.1037/a0027448

Boehm, J. K., Vie, L. L., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2012). The promise of well-being interventions for improving health risk behaviors. Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, 6(6), 511-519. doi:10.1007/s12170-012-0273-x Abstract.

Cohen, R., Bavishi, C., & Rozanski, A. (2016). Purpose in life and its relationship to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events: A meta-analysis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(2), 122-33. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000274 Abstract.

Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R. B., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 652-657.

Crum, A. J., & Langer, E. (2007). Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Bulletin, 18(2), 165-171. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01867.x

Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(5), 804-813.

Global Human Capital Trends 2016. The new organization (2016). Deloitte University Press. Retrieved from

Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st-century workforce (2014). Deloitte University Press.

Kohut, M. L., Cooper, M. M., Nickolaus, M. S., Russell, D. R., & Cunnick, J. E. (2002). Exercise and psychosocial factors modulate immunity to influenza vaccine in elderly individuals. Journal of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences, 57(9), M557-562.

Maruta, T., Colligan, R. C., Malinchoc, M. & Offord, K. P. (2000). Optimists versus pessimists: Survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(2), 140-143. Abstract.

Moore, M. (2008, September 30). It’s simple: Flow to health and happiness. IDEA Health and Fitness Association.

Räikkönen, K., & Matthews, K. A. (2008). Do dispositional pessimism and optimism predict ambulatory blood pressure during schooldays and nights in adolescents? Journal of Personality, 76, 605-630. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00498.x

Shaar, M.-J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Sisodia, R., Sheth, J., & Wolfe, D. B. (2014, p. 80). Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. Quotation from p. 80.

Strecher, V. J. (2016). Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything. New York: HarperCollins.

Sturt, D., & Nordstrom, T. (2016, February 5). The talent crisis is global and so is its solution. Forbes.

Taylor, S. E. (2002). The tending instinct: How nurturing is essential to who we are and how we live. New York: Times Books.

Tindle, H. A., Chang, Y. F., Kuller, L. H., Manson, J. E., Robinson, J. G., Rosal, M. C., . . . Matthews, K. A. (2009). Optimism, cynical hostility, and incident coronary heart disease and mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative. Circulation, 120(8), 656-662. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827642

Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1996). The relationship between social support and physiological processes: A review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychological Bulletin. 119(3). 488-531. Abstract.

Yang, C. Y., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Lin, T., Schorpp, K., & Harris, K. M. (2016). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(3), 578–583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112

Photo Credit: from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Millenials at work courtesy of tedeytan
Joy at work courtesy of SupportPDX
Friends at work courtesy of anythiene
Road to wellness courtesy of Rusty Russ

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Alan Potts 5 September 2017 - 6:10 am

Thanks for sharing this marvelous post with us. It’s very informative post. The topics shared by you in this post are really very informative and very helpful. Positive emotions are very much necessary for achieving greater wellness. You’re great.

MJ Shaar 14 September 2017 - 11:03 am

Thanks for your comment, Alan! I’m glad you’re finding useful info in here! Here’s to more positive emotions in our lives!


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