The Science-backed Power Of Positive Thinking + Tips On How To Make The Shift

Turns out, it’s not all in your head: Looking on the bright side could literally make you a healthier (and happier) person.

When life gets you down, people almost always instinctively respond by telling you to stay positive. But the question is, why? Does being a glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty kind of person really make that much of a difference? The answer, in short, is yes.

And the benefits go way beyond simply feeling happier. One recent study found that a higher degree of optimism among women was associated with a lower mortality risk from various causes, including cancer and heart disease.

“Some research has suggested that people with more positive thoughts may take better overall care of themselves and have fewer risk factors for heart disease and other chronic diseases,” says Lisa Yanek, M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “Other studies have found that negative thoughts can lower immune response and promote inflammation, which increases disease risk.” Yanek personally co-authored another study that revealed that positive people with a family history of heart disease were 1/3 less likely to have a heart attack than those who were negative.

In the study, researchers analyzed participants’ “positive well-being,” which is a composite measure of six elements:

1. Feeling cheerful
2. Feeling relaxed
3. Being energetic
4. Being satisfied with life
5. Having emotional and behavioral control
6. Being free from health concerns

“In my opinion, this may be why positive thinking is so powerful,” says Yanek. “It is an accumulation of things from many aspects of your mental health, which in turn can impact many aspects of your life and overall health,” notes Yanek.

Changing the way you think about stress, or learning to see the glass as half-full in general, is often much easier said than done, but since research shows that both your mind and body can benefit from the practice, it’s well worth the effort. Studies show that starting a gratitude practice can help kickstart consistent positivity. For more ideas, try these three tips from Yanek:

  • Smile more often. “Forcing yourself to smile even when you’re feeling negative thoughts may improve your mood and/or your ability to cope with stress,” Yanek says.
  • Reframe your negative thoughts. Negative thoughts happen. When they do, turn them into positive ones. For example, the next time you have a thought like “I don’t exercise enough,” think of a positive version of the same thought—it could be as simple as “I’m going to exercise more.” Suddenly instead of a dead-end, you have hope.
  • Surround yourself with positive-thinking people. There’s truth to that saying “you are the company you keep.” The more positivity you surround yourself with, the more likely you’ll be to see things in a positive light.
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