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In U.S., Using Strengths More May Be the Best Pain Medicine

In U.S., Using Strengths More May Be the Best Pain Medicine

by Jim Asplund

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The more Americans with health problems use their strengths each day to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing physical pain, worry, stress, anger, or sadness "yesterday," despite their medical situations. Among those without health problems, there is a similar, but far more modest relationship between strengths usage and negative experiences.

Negative Experiences, by Health Status and Strengths Usage

These findings are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 120,354 American adults on Aug. 22-Dec. 30, 2012. Gallup assessed strengths usage based on responses to the following question: "About how many hours out of the day yesterday were you able to use your strengths to do what you do best?" Health problems were assessed by asking, "Do you have any health problems that prevent you from doing any of the things people your age normally can do?"

Among Americans with health problems, those who are able to use their strengths for at least 10 hours per day are much less likely to say they experience pain (50%) than those who use their strengths for three hours or less daily (69%). The same relationship exists among those without health problems, only with a somewhat smaller difference in experiencing pain between those who use their strengths for 10 or more hours (13%) and those who use their strengths for zero to three hours (17%). This pattern holds true for anger, stress, sadness, and worry, and is consistent across all age, gender, education, and income groups.

It is possible that Americans who report using their strengths for more hours per day are generally more positive or upbeat people who are less likely to report experiencing negative emotions. Even if this is the case, this underlying positivity has clear benefits for Americans -- particularly for those with health problems -- in terms of how they view and describe their lives. Researchers such as Shelley Taylor at UCLA have documented the psychological and biological benefits of optimism and other positive emotions. Even "positive illusions" have been shown to help people manage stressful experiences, including poor health, by giving them a greater sense of control over their circumstances.

Another explanation for this relationship is that people with health problems who spend more time using their strengths to do what they do best are distracted from their pain, stress, and other negative emotions. It is also possible that those who use their strengths for more hours each day may be less likely to have or report health problems, or that people with health problems have fewer opportunities to use their strengths because those health problems interfere with the activities they find meaningful.

Despite Health Problems, Using Strengths More Is Linked to Positive Experiences

Americans also report a substantial boost in positive emotions such as enjoyment and happiness the more they use their strengths. Again, the positive effects of using strengths are greater among those with health issues than among those without them, especially after the first three hours. Individuals with health problems who use their strengths for at least seven hours are only slightly less likely than those without health issues to experience happiness and enjoyment.

Positive Experiences, by Health Status and Strengths Usage


More than one out of five Americans has a health problem that prevents them from doing the same things as others their age. In addition to increasing medical costs, health problems often lead to productivity losses for those who are in the workforce. Health problems also can take a significant psychological toll on many individuals that can lead to further health-related costs related to depression and stress.

Gallup has spent more than half a century studying human strengths and more than 9.6 million people have taken Gallup's Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment -- which tests for 34 specific, unique strengths -- since its inception in 1998. Gallup has found that Americans who spend more time using their strengths are more likely to be engaged at work and feel more energized, which benefits those with health problems and their employers.

Since many Americans spend a large amount of their time at work, employers have an important role to play in encouraging those in the workforce to spend more time using their strengths. Employers can take a strengths-based approach to managing employees, which may increase daily positive emotions, decrease negative emotions, and reduce pain -- particularly among those with health problems. This presents an opportunity for employers to reduce their healthcare costs while simultaneously improving their employees' health and productivity.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Aug. 20-Dec. 30, 2012, with a random sample of 120,354 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of adults with health problems, the margin of sampling error is ±0.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of adults without health problems, the margin of sampling error is ±0.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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