Background behind term "positive thinking"

Think Positive! You surely have heard this before.

Positive Thinking

The idea of positive thinking came en vogue in the 1950s with the popular (but also heavily criticised) book Power of Positive Thinking.

The book was written by the well-known religious preacher Peale. It was criticized by mental health specialists. I leave it to you to make up your own mind about the quality of the book.

The good thing is that serious researchers have used the term to elaborate on the concept and the Positive Thinking Scale is a good example of that work.

Measuring positive thinking

Now that you know where the term comes from, you still would like to know, "can we measure how positive (or negative) someone thinks?". This is a great question where the scale can help you.

The Positive Thinking Scale has 22 yes/no items (equal number of positive and negative items). The score lies between 0 and 22.

Our approach to measuring a propensity to positive thinking was to assess people’s positive versus negative thinking about important aspects of their lives — themselves, one’s past and future, other people, and the world in general. Our Positive Thinking Scale (PTS) focused primarily on people’s view of themselves and other people. Rather than examine people’s positivity about neutral objects, we chose to examine people’s thought propensities about important aspects of life, of oneself, and of others. Which approach leads to an assessment that best reflects one’s general thought tendencies will be a question for future research, as will be the incremental validity beyond other types of measures.

— Diener et al.

Please also note this very important point made by the authors:

Although this scale performed in an adequate way, with decent reliabilities and correlations with other measures of well-being, it is the scale in most need of further testing and development. Several questions are important. Might the measure perform better if responses were on a graded scale rather than simply being yes–no? Greater sampling of memories is needed, including both rumination and savoring, for example, and not just attention and interpretation. Another desirable future extension of the scale would be to include thoughts about nonsocial aspects of the world. An important question is whether the scale provides additional valid information beyond personality characteristics, such as neuroticism. Thus, the positive thinking scale shows initial promise but requires more psychometric work

— Diener et al.

Average score among students

The original study (Diener et al., 2009) reported that the average score among 573 studes was 15.5 points (possible range 0-22).

Run the demo

The scale is from the same paper from which the Flourishing Scale and the SPANE come from. Thus, you can assume that the PTS is copyrighted but you are free to use it without permission or charge by all professionals (researchers and practitioners) as long as you give credit to the authors of the scale. The reference is at the bottom of this page.


This is a scale question with some reverse coded items.

The survey code for PsyToolkit

Copy and paste this code to your PsyToolkit account if you want to use the scale in your own online research project
scale: yesno
- {score=1} Yes
- {score=0} No

l: pts
t: scale yesno
q: The following items are to be answered "Yes" or "No"
o: buildup
- {reverse} I see my community as a place full of problems.
- I see much beauty around me.
- I see the good in most people.
- {reverse} When I think of myself, I think of many shortcomings.
- I think of myself as a person with many strengths.
- I am optimistic about my future.
- {reverse} When somebody does something for me, I usually wonder if they have an ulterior motive.
- When something bad happens, I often see a “silver lining,” something good in the bad event.
- I sometimes think about how fortunate I have been in life.
- {reverse} When good things happen, I wonder if they might have been even better.
- {reverse} I frequently compare myself to others.
- {reverse} I think frequently about opportunities that I missed.
- When I think of the past, the happy times are most salient to me.
- I savor memories of pleasant past times.
- {reverse} I regret many things from my past.
- When I see others prosper, even strangers, I am happy for them.
- {reverse} When I think of the past, for some reason the bad things stand out.
- I know the world has problems, but it seems like a wonderful place anyway.
- {reverse} When something bad happens, I ruminate on it for a long time.
- {reverse} When good things happen, I wonder if they will soon turn sour.
- {reverse} When I see others prosper, it makes me feel bad about myself.
- I believe in the good qualities of other people.

l: score_pts
t: set
- sum $pts

l: feedback
t: info
q: Your score on the <b>Positive Thinking Scale</b> is {$score_pts}.<br><br>
The possible range of scores is 0 (most negative thinking) to 22 (most positive
thinking). A high score indicates that the respondent sees much that is positive in
the world and himself or herself, and in other people. A high score thus represents a
tendency to think in positive ways and to not think in negative ways.


  • Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266. Online available here.