Most of us have heard of the power of having a positive mindset – the idea that positive thinking can improve your life. Some people believe that simply putting good thoughts out into the universe will cause the universe to bring these things to you. For me that’s a little too “woo-woo”, I believe it’s a little more like: whatever you give attention to will become your life.
No-one wakes up and says “I think I’m going to suck today” (I hope!), but plenty of people wake up and immediately begin to focus on their problems. Focusing on the negative things on their lives instead of the positive ones.
There is actually some science from reputable sources that supports positive thinking. No, it doesn’t back the idea that if you believe that the universe owes you a Mercedes, then the universe will find a way to deliver one to you. But if things like a longer life span, less depression, more vigorous health and better physical and psychological well being sound pretty good to you, then read on!
First things first – what is positive thinking?
Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad things in life, blundering your way along like a happy idiot. Positive thinkers can be realists, they just choose to focus on the positive possibilities instead of the negative ones. In essence, they’re optimists.
My family used to tell a story about two kids to explain the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. One child was placed in a room full of toys and games, and the other was tossed into a room full of horseshit. an hour later they revisited the kid in the room full of toys, and he complained that they didn’t have his favorite in the room, and that the other toys sucked. He was a pessimist. When they checked on the child in the room of horse poo, thy found him with a smile on his face, flinging the poop around the room. When they asked him why he was happy, he replied “With all this horse crap, there’s gotta be a pony somewhere!” Clearly he was the optimist.
Being a positive thinker means looking for the good in a situation – even if there’s a lot of crap to go through first. I’m sure child #2 wasn’t thrilled to find himself in a room full of shit, but he found a way to look for the god anyway. A positive thinker focuses on the good possibilities life has to offer – instead of the negative ones.
So which one are you? Does your mind tend to travel to bad possibilities and negative thoughts? If so, then you’re probably a pessimist, and you’re missing out on some pretty great things! What you ask? Well, let’s take a look!
The benefits of positive thinking
So, who cares if you’re an optimist or a pessimist? Those freakin’ optimists are living in lala land right? Maybe so, but there are perks to living in lala land – regardless of your personal views on the world. There are the expected perks like:
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower stress levels
- Increased lifespan
- Greater resistance to colds
- Better cardiovascular health
- Lower risk of death from a cardio related disease
- Better mental and physical well being
- Increased lifespan
- Better coping skills during stressful times in life
That’s not just me thinking out loud, or being an optimist, that’s research from the Mayo Clinic. A Johns-Hopkins researcher, Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H. found a few interesting statistics as well which is cited in their article:
“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 five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.” the research goes on to say “The finding held even in people 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.”
It’s a mystery as to exactly why optimists experience these health benefits, Reduced stress due to mindset is one theory. Another theory is that optimists tend to lead healthier lifestyles than pessimists – although I’ve seen plenty of optimists who may defy that assumption. What is clear though is there is a strong link between positivity and health.
So how can you become a more positive thinker?
Both the Mayo clinic and Johns-Hopkins recommend a number of methods to develop a more positive outlook, including:
- Smile more. Even fake smiles have been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure when under stress.
- Identify areas to change. Figure out things in your life that you tend to focus negatively on, and begin actively trying to think of the more positive aspects of them.
- Check yourself. When you find yourself thinking of things in a negative way, stop yourself and try to find a positive spin. For example, be happy for the things that you have that might be involved in the negative situation (Yeah I’m in a room of horse poop, but there’s gotta be a pony somewhere!)
- Be open to humor. Try to find the humor in everyday things, laughing at life helps make it less stressful
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. 30 minutes of exercise a day and a healthy diet can go a long way to improving your outlook (hey, you’re on this blog already champ, you’re well on your way to following this step!)
- Try to surround yourself with positive people. Staying positive can be difficult if you’re surrounded by negative people. Try to include positive supportive people in your life. These people should support your positivity – not encourage your negative side.
- Practice positive self talk. Try not to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else – kind of the opposite of the golden rule!
For more details, I’ve linked both studies in the resources section below as well as a study on 89 ways to be a positive thinker. So no excuses! Get out there and spread your Pollyanna to the world!
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