Positive thinking is a “movement” (or a simple mindset)for some that has received much popularity over the last few decades and continues to be on trend, especially following the “buzz” of best-selling books like “The Secret” which emphasized its importance in our daily lives. As human technology evolves and our world gets constantly more stressful and fast-paced, maintaining a positive mindset is important more than ever before.
But, despite what many may think, positive thinking isn’t new a concept and way of living that only “new-agers” bother with. Many philosophers of past centuries like Auguste Comte have expressed in their written works numerous benefits of positive thinking for humans. Famous buddhist guru Dalai Lama even quoted among others that “In order to carry a positive action we must first develop a positive vision”. Lama also highlighted that true happiness is achieved where no negative feelings like hatred, negativity, and fear prevail.
In the quest for true happiness, positive thinking makes perfect sense. The three-faceted concept of “body, mind, and spirit” can be truly empowered in general from positive thinking and visions. But, the benefits of positive thinking aren’t only backed up by gurus and ambiguous spiritual teachings--there are numerous scientific studies which have found that positive thinking yields numerous positive effects for our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Here are only a few:
It reduces our stress levels. Many studies have found that people who think more positively than others can control their stress levels more effectively as opposed than those who don’t. More specifically, optimists that encounter stressful situations e.g work disappointment, tend to focus more on solutions that will help them overcome the issue. Instead of focusing on their lacks, disappointments and failures, they think and execute plans of action to ultimately reach success. On the contrary, negative thinkers (pessimists), mistakenly think that a situation is beyond their control and there is nothing left to do to change it--which hinders their personal progress.
It boosts immune system health. Over the last few years, there have been many studies that have found a connection between positive thinking and immunity. Negative thinking, on the other hand, was found to negatively affect immune system capacity--in a specific study negative feelings like fear and stress, activated certain brain areas which in turn decreased the immunity power and response to a vaccine for flu.Other studies have found that positive thinkers who felt good about a particular event in their lives e.g their academic performance, showed better immune system reactions than those who were more pessimistic in such situations.
It boosts overall health. Besides boosting your stress and immunity levels, positive thinking can also help with other areas of your health as well. Mayo Clinic suggests that maintaining a positive mindset boosts cardiovascular health and lessens the risk of developing heart problems, decreases depression, and increases the average human lifespan. That implies that by thinking positively long-term, we can live healthier and longer lives in general!
Now the thing is, positive thinking doesn’t mean that you’ll have to be unrealistically positive all the time and overconfident. In fact, many experts agree that excessive and unrealistic positive thinking may make you overestimate your capabilities and neglect any other possible factors that could ruin your chances of success--which may end up in failure and more stress in the long run. Therefore, maintaining a positive yet realistic mindset is the key to reap all the benefits of positive thinking with minimal risks of it backfiring.
Goleman, D. (1987). Research affirms the power of positive thinking. The New York Times. Found online at http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/03/science/research-affirms-power-of-positive-thinking.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Goode, E. (2003). Power of Positive Thinking May Have a Health Benefit, Study Says. The New York Times. Found online at http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/News/Positive_thinking_NYT_9-03.html
Mayo Clinic. (2011). Positive thinking: Reduce stress by eliminating negative self-talk. Found online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/positive-thinking/SR00009
Schwartz, T. Psychologist and scientist Suzanne Segerstrom ’90 studies optimism and the immune system. Chronicle. Found online at http://legacy.lclark.edu/dept/chron/positives03.html
Segerstrom, S. & Sephton, S. (2010). Optimistic expectancies and cell-mediated immunity: The role of positive affect. Psychological Science, 21(3), 448-55.