The Science Behind Positive Thinking

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we are often reminded to take a step back to appreciate the little things we often take for granted in our lives. Outside of the "Thanksgiving season," could having an optimistic, positive attitude help keep you healthy? There’s some evidence that it might. Several studies suggest that having an optimistic attitude - the general feeling that good things will happen - may be connected with health benefits, such as; improved cholesterol levels, a boost in your immune response, and a lower risk of death from serious health conditions. What’s more, research suggests that there are things you can do - even if you’re not so much of a positive person - to help improve your attitude and outlook.


Scientific support for health and positive thinking

Numerous studies published in reputable medical journals support the health benefits of positive thinking. Here are two that got our attention:

Study 1:
Positive thinking reduces anxiety. Visualizations and positive self-talk reduce negative thinking and intrusive thoughts. In this study, researchers from Kings College in London worked with 102 subjects with stress and anxiety issues to determine whether positive visualization could supplant intrusive negative thoughts. The main finding suggests that any form of positive thinking is better than allowing negative thoughts to linger. This is critical in that strong, negative emotions can last hours, sometimes days — putting our bodies in a heightened chemical state. Research finds that anxiety is an emotion that can last up to four hours. On the other hand, it’s been shown that persistently thinking about a positive event lengthens feelings of joy, which can last up to six hours. Since the subconscious brain has a difficult time telling the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, visualizing positive events might be the scientific equivalent of a magic bullet that increases joy.


Study 2:
Positive people are happier and less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. Happiness promotes success in health, work and relationships. This research examined studies of nearly 300,000 people to determine whether happiness causes success or vice versa. At first blush this sounds like a chicken-egg situation. The study results show that happiness was associated with comparatively better health and that happy people are less likely to engage in harmful behaviors such as smoking, unhealthy eating, and substance abuse. The takeaway - positive thinking enables you to create positive emotions such as happiness, joy, resilience, and contentment. These in turn make it easier for you to have a positive outlook on life. People with positive outlooks tend to interact with others and with life’s challenges in a positive way. As a result, positive people are more likely to acquire favorable life circumstances — including health and wealth.


Other benefits of thinking positively include:

  • better quality of life
  • higher energy levels
  • better psychological and physical health
  • faster recovery from injury or illness
  • fewer colds
  • better stress management and coping skills
  • longer life span

Positive thinking isn’t magic and it won’t make all of your problems disappear. What it will do is make problems seem more manageable and help you approach hardships more positively and productively.


What if you’re not a positive person?

This research may seem like great news if you’re a glass-half-full type of person. But what if you’re not? Don’t worry. Here’s some good news: studies suggest that optimism might be learned. So it’s possible that you can become more optimistic. We don’t know yet if these techniques have long-lasting benefits—or if they might help protect or improve your health in the long run. But you might want to give them a try and see how they make you feel.


Seven ways to help boost positive thinking:

1. Learn Gratefulness

Every day, spend a few minutes thinking about—or writing down—the people and things you’re grateful for. Some people do this in bed before going to sleep. Some research shows that focusing on gratitude can make you feel happier and reduce stress.


2. Imagine Your Best Possible Self 

Think about how you want your life to turn out—in terms of your personal life, relationships, and work. Write it down as a story. Then spend five minutes each day imagining that possible future and more importantly, have faith in yourself, and believe you can achieve it. One study found that people who did this every day for two weeks became more positive in their outlook.


3. Share Good News

A lot of people naturally turn to friends and family for support when things go wrong. But how about when things go right? Make an effort to share the good news in your life.


4. Spend Time With Positive People

Negativity and positivity are contagious. Consider the people with whom you’re spending time. Have you noticed how someone in a bad mood can bring down almost everyone in a room? A positive person has the opposite effect on others.

Being around positive people has been shown to improve self-esteem and increase your chances of reaching goals. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up, help you see the bright side, and chase your potential with a growth mindset.


5. Push Back Against Negative Thoughts

When something doesn’t go as planned, is your first thought to blame some part of your personality? Next time that happens, stop yourself and come up with a more specific explanation. For example, if you didn’t exercise like you planned last week, don’t just call yourself “lazy.” Think about what was going on and how it was hard to fit in exercise. Studies have shown that explaining events by focusing on specifics (what you had to do last week) instead of bigger issues that are harder to change (your personality) can help improve your attitude and reframe your thinking.


6. Identify Your Areas of Negativity

Take a good look at the different areas of your life and identify the ones in which you tend to be the most negative. Not sure? Ask a trusted friend or colleague. Chances are, they’ll be able to offer some insight. A co-worker might notice that you tend to be negative at work. Your spouse may notice that you get especially negative while driving. Tackle one area at a time, and dig into the details that may trigger that negativity, self-doubt, or root of frustration.


7. Start Every Day on a Positive Note

The old saying "Today is a New Day" means you have the opportunity to start fresh and on a positive note. Create a ritual in which you start each day with something uplifting and positive. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tell yourself that it’s going to be a great day or any other positive affirmation
  • Create a list of your goals, action items, and plans for the day and achieve them. The accomplishment will help uplift your mood.
  • Compliment one person, anyone. Their smile and joy will help uplift you too.
  • Listen to a happy and positive song or playlist
  • Share some positivity by giving a compliment or doing something nice for someone



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