When you learn to accentuate the positive, your health and well-being can reap real rewards.
Posted in , Sep 1, 2021
The philosopher and psychologist William James believed that by regulating action, we can indirectly regulate feeling. James, who is often referred to as the father of American psychology, wrote: “The sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully, to look round cheerfully, and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”
The motivational speaker and author Louise T. Hay believed that “the thoughts we think and the words we speak create our experiences.” In her book You Can Heal Your Life, Hay wrote about the transformative value of present-tense positive thinking. She touted a steady diet of affirmations, including her typical daily recitation before the mirror:
Louise, you are wonderful, and I love you/
This is one of the best days of your life.
Everything is working out for your highest good.
Whatever you need to know is revealed to you.
Whatever you need comes to you.
All is well.
Can you really fake it ’til you make it, or should we dismiss this all as airy-fairy babble?
Research indicates that positive thinking can actually be very beneficial. Even when circumstances are impossible to change, or when caregiving challenges feel overwhelming, your physical and mental well-being can benefit from crowding out negative thoughts.
A few health benefits of positive thinking include:
Protection from heart attacks. 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 than those with a more negative outlook, according to Johns Hopkins researcher Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H. and her colleagues. The study also found that positive people from the general population were 13 percent less likely than their negative counterparts to have a heart attack or other coronary event. One theory is that a positive outlook may protect against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another factor may be that more positive people make better health and life decisions.
Longer life span. A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women who were optimistic had a significantly reduced risk of dying from several major causes of death—including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infection—over an eight-year period, compared with women who were less optimistic. Healthy behaviors only partially explain the link between optimism and reduced mortality risk, the study surmised. One other possibility is that higher optimism directly impacts our biological systems, said Eric Kim, research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-lead author of the study. Additional research has tied optimism to longer life span and even “exceptional longevity,” or living to the age of 85 or beyond.
Boosted immunity. A positive attitude was shown to play an important part in healthy aging. A University of Queensland study followed 50 adults ages 65 to 90 for over two years and found those who focused on positive information were more likely to have stronger immune systems. Optimism appeared to enhance immunity at the other end of the age spectrum, as well, in a study of first-year law students by University of Kentucky researchers. Researchers there found that as each student’s expectations about law school waxed and waned, their immune responses followed.
Overall psychological and physical well-being. Positive thinking also contributes to lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress and better coping skills during times of hardships and stress, according to Mayo Clinic. Optimistic people are also believed to have healthier lifestyles. They tend to get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet and avoid smoking or drinking alcohol in excess, Mayo reports.
How can you make your thinking more positive? It can help to start small, by selecting one area of your life you’d like to be more positive about. Then build from there. Here are a few tips:
There is no question that, especially today, you may feel you’re steering a boat in very troubled waters. When caregiving is added to the mix, the challenges can be even greater. Reframing your thoughts in a more positive direction can help you to navigate in a way that benefits your health and well-being and, in turn, that of your loved one.