Positive thinking can have a range of physical and mental health benefits. Building a few habits, like positive self-talk and journaling, can help you get started.
Are you a glass half-empty or half-full sort of person? Studies have demonstrated that both can impact your physical and mental health and that being a positive thinker is the better of the two.
A recent study followed 70,000 women from 2004 to 2012 and found that those who were optimistic had a significantly lower risk of dying from several major causes of death, including:
- heart disease
- cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal cancers
- respiratory diseases
Other proven 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
- lower rates of depression
- 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 in a more positive and productive way.
Positive thinking can be achieved through a few different techniques that have been proven effective, such as positive self-talk and positive imagery.
Here are some tips that to get you started that can help you train your brain how to think positively.
Focus on the good things
Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you’re faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. If you look for it, you can always find the proverbial silver lining in every cloud — even if it’s not immediately obvious. For example, if someone cancels plans, focus on how it frees up time for you to catch up on a TV show or other activity you enjoy.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and foster resilience even in very difficult times. Think of people, moments, or things that bring you some kind of comfort or happiness and try to express your gratitude at least once a day. This can be thanking a co-worker for helping with a project, a loved one for washing the dishes, or your dog for the unconditional love they give you.
Keep a gratitude journal
Open yourself up to humor
Studies have found that laughter lowers stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves coping skills, mood, and self-esteem.
Be open to humor in all situations, especially the difficult ones, and give yourself permission to laugh. It instantly lightens the mood and makes things seem a little less difficult. Even if you’re not feeling it; pretending or forcing yourself to laugh can improve your mood and lower stress.
Spend time with positive people
Negativity and positivity have been shown to be 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 and help you see the bright side.
Practice positive self-talk
We tend to be the hardest on ourselves and be our own worst critic. Over time, this can cause you to form a negative opinion of yourself that can be hard to shake. To stop this, you’ll need to be mindful of the voice in your head and respond with positive messages, also known as positive self-talk.
Research shows that even a small shift in the way you talk to yourself can influence your ability to regulate your feelings, thoughts, and behavior under stress.
Here’s an example of positive self-talk: Instead of thinking “I really messed that up,” try “I’ll try it again a different way.”
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.
Start every day on a positive note
Create a ritual in which you start off 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.
- Listen to a happy and positive song or playlist.
- Share some positivity by giving a compliment or doing something nice for someone.
Trying to be positive when you’re grieving or experiencing other serious distress can seem impossible. During these times, it’s important to take the pressure off of yourself to find the silver lining. Instead, channel that energy into getting support from others.
Positive thinking isn’t about burying every negative thought or emotion you have or avoiding difficult feelings. The lowest points in our lives are often the ones that motivate us to move on and make positive changes.
When going through such a time, try to see yourself as if you were a good friend in need of comfort and sound advice. What would you say to her? You’d likely acknowledge her feelings and remind her she has every right to feel sad or angry in her situation, and then offer support with a gentle reminder that things will get better.
Negative thinking and the many feelings that can accompany it, such as pessimism, stress, and anger, can cause a number of physical symptoms and increase your risk of diseases and a shortened lifespan.
Stress and other negative emotions trigger several processes in our bodies, including stress hormone release, metabolism, and immune function. Long periods of stress increase inflammation in your body, which has also been implicated in a number or serious diseases.
Some of the symptoms of stress include:
Cynicism, stress, anger, and hostility have been linked to a higher risk of:
If you’re feeling consumed by negative thoughts and are having trouble controlling your emotions, see a doctor. You may benefit from medical help, such as positive psychology or therapy. Persistent negative thoughts can be caused by an underlying psychiatric condition that requires treatment.
You won’t be able to undo years of pessimism and negative thoughts overnight, but with some practice, you can learn how to approach things with a more positive outlook.