Positive thinking is about how you approach negative news or stressful situations with a positive outlook. Positive thinkers can look beyond the setbacks or bad situations and see that they will be able to get through it, rather than being consumed by it. They still have to acknowledge and process a bad situation, however they realise that bad news doesn’t mean the entire world is bad or that you will never experience goodness again. Positive thinkers also assume the best in people’s intentions and they interpret people’s actions more favourably rather than jumping to negative conclusions and assuming the worst. They imagine or foresee good outcomes.
Positive thinking usually starts with a person’s own self-talk. We have constant thoughts running through our head and some may be based on facts and are unbiased, but many have a positive or negative outlook.
Researchers are finding more and more evidence pointing to the many benefits of optimism and positive thinking. In recent years there has been a lot of evidence emerging that optimism and positive thinking can influence the immune system, brain function, and physical health. This research is ongoing and continues to highlight many benefits of positive thinking on our mind and body. Here we discuss some results of that research and the power of positive thinking.
Positive thinking leads to better health in older age
Positive thinking will not only make you a happier person, but it may also improve your overall health later in life. Research has found that older people with positive age stereotypes, or beliefs about old people, were 44 percent more likely to fully recover from a severe disability than those with negative age stereotypes.
According to researchers, having a positive attitude may promote recovery from disability by limiting the cardiovascular response to stress, improving physical balance, enhancing self-efficacy, and increasing engagement in healthy behaviours. Those with positive age stereotype views also had a significantly slower rate of decline among each of the four essential daily activities studied.
Optimists tend to live longer
Other research has found that people who are optimistic tend to live longer than those who are pessimistic. One reason for this is that optimists generally experience less stress in their life. Experts say that pessimism can weaken the immune system and diminish the overall strength of the body.
Lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia
Studies also show that repetitive negative thinking is linked to cognitive decline and problems with memory, and consequently a greater risk of dementia. Therefore, focusing on the positive, removing the negative, and fixating on the affirmative not only puts you in a better mood – It’s also good for your brain.
Decreased risk of heart attacks and heart disease
One study found that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within 5-25 years than those with a more negative outlook. Even those with family history who had the most risk factors for coronary artery disease, and positive people from the general population were 13 percent less likely than their negative counterparts to have a heart attack or other coronary event.
Less stress and better emotional well-being
In one study, participants who had a more optimistic attitude also had higher levels of emotional well-being and experienced stress less frequently and differently than those who were more pessimistic. The more optimistic participants reported more frequent positive moods and lower negative moods.
Immunity is one area where your thoughts and attitudes can have a particularly powerful influence. In one study, researchers found that activation in brain areas associated with negative emotions led to a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine. Another study found that people who were optimistic about a specific and important part of their lives, for example how well they were doing in school, exhibited a stronger immune response than those who had a more negative view of the situation.
While researchers are uncovering that being positive can have a profound impact on your life, and that positive people have a lower risk of depression. This is thought to be linked to positive people leading healthier lifestyles, coping better with stress, adapting better to change, being more resilient and avoiding unhealthy behaviours. Overall, this is due to improved health and well-being and this can also result in less risk of depression.
All these research findings suggest that a positive attitude can go a long way, and that our minds are deeply connected to our bodies and the way we feel. Although the exact connection between health and positivity remains somewhat unclear, researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another possibility is that positivity helps people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals.
What is clear, is that there is definitely a strong link between positivity and health. These findings could lead to positive-thinking interventions that help the elderly live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Next month we bring you practical tips on how to think positively and therefore improve your health. We will discuss how you can change your behaviour and thoughts to adopt a more positive mindset. It takes effort, but once you consciously practice adopting a more positive approach, you can change your brain and form new ways of thinking. We will explore how some optimists work hard to combat their negative emotions, and how negative thought patterns can be changed with mindfulness and self-compassion.