21 Health Benefits of Positive Thinking (and how to do it)
Most of us know if we’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person. And if your glass is half empty, you may think there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, sometimes things do happen that are just not good. There’s no question that life is far from perfect, and it pays to be prepared.
Perhaps you just feel like being positive and upbeat is much less important than powerful behaviors like persistence and work ethic.
Yet, it turns out that folks who have a more positive outlook enjoy some pretty big payoffs. According to research, the benefits of positive thinking, for example, include a healthier heart and longer life!
Having a positive mindset doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna and always ignoring what’s not working. Instead, it means that regardless of whether things are going right or wrong, you approach them in a more positive, productive way. You look for the good—the silver lining—in every situation.
And that mindset typically begins with how we talk to ourselves—those thoughts that so often stream through the mind whether you want them there or not. If they’re typically positive, you’re an optimist, and you are likely already experiencing the benefits of positive thinking. If your self-talk, on the other hand, tends to be negative, you are probably a pessimist. If so, it may be a good time to learn some new techniques to change how you think—and talk—to yourself.
How to Know If You’re a Pessimist
Sometimes it’s not obvious if you’re a pessimist. In fact, you might be pretty offended if someone suggests that you are. You might just see yourself as a realist and think that if someone can look on the bright side in certain situations, they must not understand what’s actually going on.
If you’re not sure where you lie on the positive-negative outlook spectrum, take a minute and see if this sounds familiar:
- Say someone gives you a compliment, you got everything on your list done for the day early, or finally accomplished something you’ve really been working hard for… Do you focus on what’s next instead of taking a moment to appreciate what went well? If so, you might be a pessimist.
- Say something just awful—or even simply irritating—happens, do you blame yourself? Do you extend it past the single event and onto the rest of your life? Perhaps a co-worker didn’t accept your invitation to go for a walk over lunch, or worse, she went out for lunch with another co-worker instead. Do you immediately think it must be because you’re not likable at all and nobody likes you? If so, you might be a pessimist.
- Say something goes wrong in the morning…perhaps you got a flat tire or spilled coffee on your work outfit and had to run home to change. Do you immediately start thinking you’ll get reprimanded by your boss (or worse, fired)? Do you automatically assume that the day is shot and you might as well pack it up and go back to bed? If so, you might be a pessimist.
- Do you see everything in black or white or as good or bad, with no middle ground? If you think you must be absolutely perfect—otherwise you’re just complete rubbish—then, yes, you might be a pessimist.
21 Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
Before you hit the “comment” button and share some not-so-nice-things to let me know how little you appreciate this list (which actually comes from the Mayo Clinic), let’s look at how to reframe your self-talking points so you can instead begin to enjoy the benefits of positive thinking.
Why bother? I’m glad you asked! Because research has found that the benefits of positive thinking—that is, being filled with optimism, which is commonly defined as the tendency to think that good things will happen in the future and is typically characterized as being a cheerful, grateful, purpose-filled person—may include:
- Lower stress levels
- Improved coping skills
- Higher energy levels
- Increased resilience to overcome adversity
- Increased ability to see more possibilities and options
- Increased curiosity and creativity
- Increased skill attainment
- Decreased depression
- Increased resistance to illness like the common cold
- Improved well-being
- Reduced pain
- Decreased risk for cardiovascular disease (by up to 30%) and early death from heart attacks and strokes (by up to 39%!)
- Improved survival rates for people with HIV and certain forms of cancer (including breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal)
- Decreased risk of dying from infection (by up to 52%) and respiratory diseases
- Increased life span, and more importantly, health span
- Faster recovery from injury
- Reduced risk of death from all causes
- Better quality of life
One of the most intriguing studies found that optimism was associated with a 35% lower risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular events in people who had a family history of heart disease. And a positive outlook was even more beneficial for folks already suffering from cardiovascular disease.
How to Transform to a Positive Thinking & Mindset: 12 Steps
Transforming how you think—especially if you feel you were just born a pessimist—can be difficult, and it can take some time. But hopefully, you realize why it’s worth it. And while not easy, it is simple, and here are 12 steps you can take to shift your outlook from glass half empty to glass half full so you can begin to tap into the benefits of positive thinking:
1) Start Your Day Off Right. One simple thing you can start immediately is a morning ritual that can set you up for a positive day right from the beginning. All you have to do is tell yourself that today is going to be a great day as you set your feet on the floor when you get out of bed. Yep, that’s it.
2) Focus on One Area at a Time. Whether you naturally gravitate toward the negative in just one or two areas of life or your pessimism blankets every area of your life, focus on applying a positive outlook to just one area at a time. Identify what you’d most like to improve—your relationship with your partner or kids, your work habits, your exercise habits, your commute, etc. What’s one step you can take to approach just this single area more positively? And if you’re not sure where you tend to be negative, ask someone you trust for their insight. They are likely to notice the area(s) you may want to tackle first.
3) Laugh! The more you laugh at life—even those challenging moments—the less you feel stressed. See if you can find the humor in the situation and give yourself permission to laugh out loud. That includes being willing to laugh at yourself and your mistakes. Quit taking life— and yourself—so seriously.
4) Exercise. One of the easiest ways to lift your mood is to move your body. Pick something you enjoy doing—such as walking, dancing, running, going to a fitness class, weightlifting, or playing a game of basketball—and add it to your daily routine. Exercise is a natural mood lifter that’s a gateway to the benefits of positive thinking.
5) Meditate. Folks who meditate daily have been shown to display more positive emotions than those who don’t. By starting a habit of meditating for even just a few minutes a day, you can be rewarded with benefits of positive thinking like greater mindfulness, increased purpose in life, greater social support, and even decreased symptoms of illness.
6) Check in on Your Friends. How do your friends see the world? If they’re constantly griping and complaining, you may want to start spending more time with some of your other friends. Surround yourself with people who are supportive, positive, helpful, and who are willing to offer solutions rather than just pointing out what’s wrong. Look for folks who are more open-minded and are more interested in getting it right than being right.
7) Play! Take a look at your weekly calendar. If you’re like most people, you have scheduled meetings, appointments, and other responsibilities. But when was the last time you scheduled playtime for yourself—not just for the kids? Intentionally carving out time to explore, experiment, adventure, and just have fun is a great way to boost positive thoughts and emotions.
8) Practice Makes Positive. That is, “Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to others. To their face.” Evaluate your thoughts rationally and then look for what’s good about you or the situation. This can be a challenging rule for even the most positive people, but it can really help transform the way you talk with yourself. Perhaps the only positive you can find is that you’re learning more about yourself. Great! Now keep on practicing.
9) Virtually Everything Is Figure-out-able. Pessimists often believe that things are set. Things are the way they are, and there is no way to change them. Optimists, on the other hand, look for ways to alter or resolve challenging situations, even if the only thing they can change is their attitude. This helps them keep on keeping on, even when things get tough, so they ultimately do figure out a solution. Remember that as long as you keep trying, you’ll likely learn everything you need from the experience to succeed the next time… or the time after that.
10) Be Grateful. There’s always something to be grateful for. Heck, it’s a miracle that you woke up this morning. (Great job!) Develop a practice of counting your blessings. You can keep a gratitude journal, and you can get in the habit of saying thank you for even the littlest things. You might just be blown away by how much this easy technique can do for a more positive mindset.
11) Focus on Positive Outcomes. It may sound too simple but sitting down and writing out possible positive outcomes for the various areas of your life, including family, friendship, home, career, illness, etc., is another way to enhance your health and your future with positive thinking.
12) Smile More. Even if you have to fake it, smiling has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure when in stressful situations. Better yet, find a reason to smile—even if that means watching funny cat or puppy videos on YouTube.
How Does Positive Thinking Benefit Health?
There isn’t agreement yet on why the benefits of positive thinking exist, but some researchers suggest it’s because optimism helps folks better deal with stressful situations and have greater psychological resilience. Yet, it’s also true that folks with a positive outlook are also more likely to engage in other healthy behaviors, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding harmful lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking in excess.
In addition, those individuals with a more negative view of life tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, which can lead to higher blood pressure and heart rate. They’re also more likely to trying to cope by self-medicating with junk/comfort food, alcohol, other potentially harmful substances, and unhealthy habits.
You may not become an overnight optimist, but with just a bit of daily practice, your thoughts can start to change—becoming less critical and more accepting of yourself and others over time. That’s because a positive outlook isn’t just a personality trait; it’s a skill you can train and improve.
As Monty Python so brilliantly sang in Life of Brian:
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly, chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle—that’s the thing
Always look on the bright side of life!
Your heart and health will thank you for it (not to mention your relationships and overall enjoyment of life)!