The Health Benefits of Positive Thinking : Part 2
In recent years, the so-called “power of positive thinking” has gained a great deal of attention thanks to self-help books. While these books often look at positive thinking as a holly grail, medical research has found that there are many real health benefits linked to positive thinking and optimistic attitudes.
Psychotherapy literature defines positive thinking in terms of how do we cope and explain good and bad things when they happen or may happen in the future. Here are the criterion:
1- Look at the positive side when facing negative things, events and people.
2- Find an opportunity to learn from negative things, events and people with an open mind.
3- Be more receptive and not fearless about uncertainty of the future, ongoing change and its consequences since permanent change is unavoidable and part of life. More precisely: Express positive expectations in the future and see current negative events as temporary and atypical
4- Have a positive self-image and self-esteem without being narcissist.
5- Tend to give themselves some credit when good things happen, and typically accept and learn from bad things when they happen. Of course, it does not mean being on an ego trip.
If positive thinkers are more apt to use an optimistic explanatory style, they may use also explanation such as “ It is my fault” while dealing with challenging events or people
From the Mayo Clinic, a randomized, 15 years prospective study on 1,558 adults practicing positive thinking vs. a control group has showed a strong trend towards better physical and mental health.
- Longer life span by around 5 years.
- Better personal, social and professional relationships and achievements.
- Less stress as confirmed by lower stress hormone cortisol and adrenalin blood levels.
- Lower rates of depression and lower use anti-depression therapy.
- Increased resistance to infections especially the common cold.
- Better stress management and coping skills such as accepting negative events rather than resisting.
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related death and hypertension.
- Increased physical well-being.
- Better psychological health.
- Less use of gateway behavior such as alcohol, drugs, gaming.
Limitation of the study are the lack of complete statistical analysis in some criterion. However the trend is significant in all benefits.
Why exactly does positive thinking have such a strong impact on physical and mental health?
There are not yet scientific explanations. One hypothesis is that people who think positively tend to:
Less affected by stressors and their effects.
Have a healthier life style: Exercise, diet, sleep more and better.
Avoid unhealthy anti-stress behaviors such as tobacco, sweet food, etc.
Positive thinking does affect the anatomy and functions of the brain thru neuroplasticity (mind affecting matter)
specifically on our emotional brain also called limbic system.
Or, maybe we are dealing here with an “egg and chicken” dilemma for example: good health enhances positive thinking or positive thinking enhances good health.
Positive thinking is not always expecting the best to happen in every hour of the day but accepting that whatever happens now to you and others ……is not that bad and could be worse. 🙂
Even if you see the glass half empty and are not a natural-born optimist, you can learn how to think more positively. As usual, the first steps is to pay attention to your self-talk and specifically when it is a negative one. We will talk about the tools in our next presentations.