Optimism and The Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
Could the power of positive thinking and optimism be the secret to longevity? With everything that’s going on in the world, it can be easy to find yourself dwelling on the negative. However, embracing the power of positivity may not only serve to help you get through the hard times, but it could also help to give you a significant health boost.
According to the latest research from the Boston University School of Medicine, optimistic individuals end up having significantly longer life spans.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had researchers survey 69,744 women and 1,429 men. The researchers used two existing groups of people recruited for different studies. T the women were from the Nurses’ Health Study and the men were from the Veterans’ Health Study.
They inquired about their levels of optimism over a period of 10 years for women, and 30 years for men. In addition to assessing their levels of optimism, the researchers also asked about their lifestyle habits. This included exercise, smoking, and dietary habits, as well as their alcohol intake.
According to the results, individuals who displayed higher levels of optimism were revealed to have an 11 to 15% longer life span. Additionally, they were also found to have 50 to 70% greater odds of reaching the age of 85.
Is positivity the key to longevity?
The researchers believe that the reason for the results lies in the individual’s ability to better balance their emotions.
“Evidence from randomized control trials suggests that interventions, such as imagining a future in which everything has turned out well, or more intensive cognitive-behavioral therapy, can increase levels of optimism.” explained Prof Lewina Lee, associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, who worked on the study, “Initial evidence from other studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them, are more effective at problem-solving, and they may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations…Stress impacts on the immune system and so there is a possibility that this means that optimists cope better with infections…Our findings speak to the possibility that raising levels of optimism may promote longevity and healthy aging”.
That said, Lee acknowledges that more research is still needed to better find the actual link between positivity and longevity,
“Healthier behavior and lower levels of depression only partially explained our findings,” she added.
What exactly is positivity?
If you’re a “positive person”, then you likely accept the world as it is. You’re always looking for the silver lining in every cloud that comes your way.
It’s important to remember that positive thinking isn’t about avoiding every negative thought or emotion or any other difficult feelings. Rather, it’s about acknowledging those feelings all while doing your best to remember that things will get better. Positive thinking will help you see that you can approach your challenges in a more positive and productive manner. In doing so, you will not only lift your mood, but you’ll also give yourself a much-needed health boost.
Benefits of Positivity/Positive Thinking
What you think is what you will become. If your thinking is positive, your body is likely to reap the benefits.
According to studies, keeping a positive mindset can help to lower high blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar levels, boost your immune system, reduce the risk of generalized anxiety disorder, and even provide you with a new perspective on life.
What does negative thinking do to the body?
Negative thinking can refer to constant self-blame or individuals always focus on the negative aspects of a situation. It also includes them always expecting the worst.
This type of thinking can be accompanied by feelings of anger and stress. This, of course, can take a toll on the body. The effects of chronic stress include insomnia, nausea, migraines, body aches as well as an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, diabetes, and stroke.
That said, it’s clear that if you want to protect your health, then it may be high time to start embracing the power of positive thinking.
11 Ways To Start Thinking Positive Thoughts
Negative thinking isn’t fixed, so one can learn to become more optimistic through different techniques and methods that will help them train their brain how to think positively. This includes the following:
1. A happy body is a happy mind
If you’re sick, low on sleep, eating a poor diet and not exercising enough, you might find that your mood and thinking is anything but positive. Believe it or not, the state of your body can greatly impact how you see the world.
Therefore, it’s best if you’re eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, managing your stress levels, and getting some form of exercise at least 3 times a week. In addition to this, be sure that you’re not engaging in any form of body negativity that has you critiquing every aspect of your body and the scale. Rather focus on eating right and exercising and you’ll soon notice that no size can ever triumph a healthy, and happy body.
2. Focus on the good
Life is challenging, and every day brings a new obstacle. While it may be easy to get lost in a depressive cycle of pessimism, it’s better to direct your focus to the good things, no matter how seemingly insignificant they appear to be. You may not want to hear it at the time, but every cloud does have that proverbial silver lining.
3. Focus on solutions, and don’t dwell on the problems
Once a problem presents itself, it’s not going to go away on its own. Ignoring it is no good, as is obsessing over it and getting lost in a depressing, pit of misery. With that said, it’s best to change your focus from the problem to the solution. You can do this by asking yourself how you can improve the current situation.
You may be surprised to find that once you stop dwelling about the issue and start to focus on the solution, the problem wasn’t as big as you initially thought.
4. Identify the sources of negative thinking
As mentioned, no one is immune to negative thoughts. In looking to address your negative thinking, it’s important to identify the different areas of your life that are responsible for most of your negative thoughts.
This can either be at work, at your parent’s houses, at parent-teacher meetings or even at the gym. Once you’ve identified these areas, you’ll be able to step back and better evaluate why they have such a profound effect on your thinking. Following this, you’ll then be able to find a way in which to address the issue. This will hopefully help to change your way of thinking.
5. Leave the future where it is
The future is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you should spend your time obsessing over it. Learn to live in the present, all whilst enjoying every single moment that it brings.
6. Practice gratitude
According to research, practicing gratitude can help to alleviate stress as well as strengthen your resilience (1). It appears that being thankful and grateful for the people, and things in your life can serve to improve your mood. It will also help to provide you with a new perspective on life.
Additionally, a separate study published in the journal Psychiatry found that keeping a gratitude journal can also serve to boost positive thinking. Upon purchasing your journal, be sure to regularly jot down every morning and evening, everything that lifts your mood and makes you appreciative.
7. Practice positive self-talk
Are you aware of that voice in your head? The one that either tells you that that jacket looks great on you? Or that you’ll never be able to pull off that hair color? If you find that over time, this voice is more critical than appreciative, then you may need to learn how to practice positive self-talk.
According to research published in the Journal of Personality, and Social Psychology, changing how you speak to yourself is an effective way to help you manage your feelings, thoughts, and behavior under stressful situations.
The internal dialogue that you have with yourself can either be encouraging or distressing. You can try to start your day with positive affirmations. This can include complimenting your appearance or thinking about how productive the day is going to be. Moreover, you can also get into the habit of reflecting on your achievements throughout the day, no matter how small they may appear to you.
8. Spread some kindness
According to research, volunteering or random acts of kindness can serve to improve mental and physical health, better life satisfaction, and even help to alleviate feelings of depression (2).
By benefiting the lives of others (be it through donations, volunteering, or even lending an ear), you’ll serve to learn a valuable lesson about gratitude.
9. Stop comparing yourself to others
In the age of social media where everyone seems determined to show the world how great their life is, it can be hard to avoid feeling some envy. Before you know it, you’ll soon find yourself comparing your current life situation with the most-followed person on Instagram. It’s no wonder that social media has been associated with increased risks of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
Aside from giving yourself a digital detox, you can also learn to not think about the things you don’t have and rather focus on what you do have. Your situation is unique to you, and those factors also make you special and valuable. So, there’s no need to compare your situation to anybody else’s.
10. Surround yourself with positive people
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for your day to be ruined when someone’s in a bad mood? This is because negative (and positive thoughts) are quite contagious.
If you want to adopt a more optimistic outlook, then it’s important to consider your circle. If you find that your inner circle is full of toxic, and pessimistic individuals who leave you feeling drained, then it’s best to cut your ties with them. Rather opt to spend your time with optimistic people that you know will uplift your spirit and mood.
11. Try seeing the funny side
Life may be full of difficulties, but it’s rich in some much-needed laughs. What’s more, research published in the journal Biomedical Research and Therapy found that laughter helped to alleviate feelings of stress and depression in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Laughter has also been proven to strengthen the immune system, regulate blood pressure, and improve your memory.
If you want to change your thinking, you can learn to try and find the humor in different situations (especially the hard ones). In doing so, you’ll notice how your mood is instantly lightened. You’ll also see that the troubles ahead don’t seem that difficult or unbearable.
12. Practice mindfulness
The past has already come, the future has yet to come so why would one focus on anything except the present moment?
If you’re battling with controlling your emotions, you can try turning to mindfulness. It’s a practice that teaches one about focusing on the here and now. Stop, release your frantic thoughts, take a deep conscious breath and really experience and immerse yourself in the moment. Through exhaling, you’ll release any tension that you may be holding in. In doing so, you’ll notice a shift in how you feel as well as your thoughts about your present situation.
After all, there’s a reason as to why the present is referred to as such – because it’s a gift.
What if my negative thoughts don’t go away?
If you find that, no matter how hard you try, you’re constantly consumed by negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions, then it may be time to consult a doctor. They may be able to direct you to someone who is better qualified to deal with excessive negative thinking. These experts will help to find the source of your negative thoughts and will be better able to help you on a path of improved, positive thinking.
Can I be too positive?
As mentioned, positive thinking doesn’t mean that you’re running from your problems or closing yourself off from certain, painful feelings. Rather, it’s about accepting and acknowledging your current emotions. This can include sadness, irritation, or disappointment. Doing so will help you understand that your current situation is temporary and things can and will get better. Essentially, it’s all a matter of perspective and having a negative one may serve to enhance your current dilemma, as opposed to solving it.