Many of us have heard that there are benefits of positivity. But do we all know what the benefits are? And more importantly, do we believe in the power of positive thinking and understand how truly life-changing it can be? How we think impacts all aspects of our physical and mental health, our relationships, even our overall success in life.
How we think about life has a direct impact on our reality, for better or worse. And a multitude of scientific research has proven that there are countless benefits of thinking positively. A study published in Emotion analyzed the current research surrounding positive affect and mental and physical health outcomes. The authors determined that “prioritizing positivity predicted a host of well-being outcomes.”
They found encouraging results, including “less depressive symptomology, higher-quality relationships, improved physical health, and better work performance.”
Plus, it concluded that people who prioritize positive emotions have more considerable mental resources.
The broaden-and-build theory explains how people who lack positive emotions become stuck in many facets of life. Furthermore, their feelings of not moving forward in life can cause a lot of mental health issues. Conversely, people who have an abundance of positive emotions truly “take off” in life. Positive people “become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility, and beautifully complex.” Each of these things helps positive people reach optimal well-being.
MYTHS PERPETUATED BY THOSE WHO REJECT POSITIVITY
Unfortunately, misunderstandings about positive thinking can lead some people to believe that it is not practical. Thinking positively isn’t a useless nicety. And it doesn’t mean being fake or pretending to be okay when you are not. That thought process is a dangerous trap.
However, what thinking positively does mean is trying your best to remain optimistic about current and future situations. It is a deliberate, conscious way of thinking that has a direct impact on reality. You can find thirty life-changing benefits of positivity below.
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind. –William James
MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF POSITIVITY
1) Increases Happiness and Life Satisfaction
Much scientific research has suggested that having a positive attitude and outlook on life is a predictor of happiness. Individuals who see the positive aspects of life are more likely to be happy and have higher life satisfaction. It is often the case that positive people have more friends, which can be an essential factor in happiness.
The authors of a recent study examined whether positive emotions alone mediate the relationship between positive affect and happiness. Their results revealed that happiness was fully mediated by a person’s ability to be positive. Specifically, showing that “positive beliefs about the future, the self, and the life account for personality-happiness relationships.”
2) Positivity Increases Resilience
An abundance of research has shown that individuals who think positively have superior coping skills, which leads to increased resilience. Psychological resilience can be defined as “the ability to bounce back from negative events by using positive emotions to cope.” So it makes sense that having an increased ability to think positively would, in turn, increase your resilience.
This study demonstrated that having more positive emotions plays a critical and direct role in enhancing coping ability and resilience. Researchers revealed that higher stability makes an impact on a person’s physical health. They state, “those with higher trait resilience evidenced faster cardiovascular recovery from negative emotional arousal.”
3) Reduces Risk of Depression
Thinking positively about your current and future outcomes has been shown to increase happiness and decrease the risk of depression. Individuals who suffer from chronic health conditions have an incredibly high risk of developing depression. Much research helps counselors and therapists to understand better how they can minimize the risk of depression. More importantly, that is essential for those who treat chronically ill individuals.
One study examined “positive affect and optimism as mediators of the relationship between improved depression” among multiple sclerosis patients. Results demonstrated that improved depression and benefit-finding were significantly related to increased positive affect and optimism. This effect has been observed in individuals who do not suffer from a chronic illness, as well. This study revealed that high levels of positive affect reduced the risk of depression in healthy participants by nearly 50%.
4) Decreases Anxiety
Anxiety is a common and persistent mental health condition that impacts nearly 300 million people, reports the World Health Organization. Suffering from anxiety can negatively impact a person’s life, causing them to feel hindered in countless ways. There are a wide variety of treatment options for individuals who suffer from anxiety.
One treatment option involves receiving training in how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. This study examined alternative approaches to reducing anxiety and worry in participants diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Outcome measures showed that individuals who received training to improve positive thinking had significant decreases in anxiety and worry.
5) Positivity Increases Mental Clarity, Focus, and Concentration
The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions explains how increasing positive emotions lead to many beneficial outcomes in an individual’s life. Among the many benefits, there is evidence that positive emotions “broaden the scopes of attention, cognition, and action.” Barbara L. Fredrickson, the creator, and developer of the broaden-and-build theory, explains how and why this phenomenon occurs.
“Positive emotions promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas and social bonds,” describes Fredrickson. She goes on to state that this “in turn, builds that individual’s personal resources.” All of which results in improved mental clarity, focus, and concentration.
6) Increases Gratitude
Practicing gratitude has been proven to result in improved overall well-being and mental health in several scientific studies. Defining the mediating factor between improved gratitude and improved well-being and mental health is also important. The authors of one research review analyzed eight studies examining the role of positive emotion and positive reframing on gratitude. Study results revealed that “positive emotion mediated the relationship between gratitude and (fewer) depressive symptoms.”
Each study’s results indicated that experiencing more positive emotions led to more gratitude and, consequently, less depressive symptoms. These study results “demonstrate that gratitude is related to fewer depressive symptoms.” Researchers state that positive emotion and positive reframing serve as the mechanisms that account for this relationship.
7) Increases Self-Esteem
When you think positively about yourself and your ability to accomplish things, you naturally increase your self-esteem. A variety of scientific studies have evaluated the relationship between thinking positively and having higher self-esteem. This study demonstrated that the more a child thinks negatively about their own abilities, the lower their self-esteem becomes. The opposite is true, as well. The more positively you think about your abilities, the higher your self-esteem will be.
8) Decreases Risk of Mental Health Problems
Practicing positive thinking and optimism prove protective against developing mental health problems in countless scientific studies. The authors of a review of recent research analyzed studies that evaluated the impact positive thinking has on mental health. They reported the findings of numerous studies. Each study revealed that optimism and positive emotions improve overall well-being and mental health.
One of the reviewed studies assessed how individuals who had coronary bypass surgery impacted their mental health. Results demonstrated that individuals who were more optimistic and positive had lower levels of hostility and depression while preparing to undergo surgery. And in the week following the operation, the optimistic and positive people felt greater relief and happiness than pessimists.
9) Decreases Levels of Stress
When you think positively, you have far fewer things to become stressed about. Consequently, you won’t have to worry about experiencing the multitude of negative outcomes caused by stress. Among the negative effects of stress are high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, headaches, ulcers, and more. Increases in positive emotions, which lead to decreased stress levels, have even been shown to help heal physical wounds more quickly.
This is likely due to the stress-buffering model of positive affect and health. The authors of this scientific study published by Health Psychology assessed the impact of positive affect on wound healing. Remarkably, the skin wounds of individuals who had higher levels of positive affect (i.e., more positive emotions) healed faster. This amazing result makes it clear that thinking positively can literally heal your body. Indeed, it may save your life one day.
10) Positivity Improves Coping Skills and Stress Management
One aspect of the ability of positive thinking to decrease stress involves positive people’s ability to better cope with stress. Many scientific research has proven that a person’s “affect plays an important functional role in coping with stress.”
Positive people can see the bigger picture when a stressor comes their way. And are therefore able to respond in ways that allow them to overcome the harmful consequences of stress more quickly. A positive person has the ability to maintain a healthy perspective on the situation at hand. And does not let the stressor that they are facing send them into a panic or downward spiral.
However, negative people are more likely to focus on problems instead of solutions and have a narrower perspective, in general. This results in a negative person having a poorer ability to cope with and manage stress.
11) Increases the Meaning a Person Sees in Life
Seeing meaning in life is a key factor in living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. Previous research surrounding this topic has shown that seeing meaning in life is associated with better overall psychological well-being. The authors of this research report evaluated the findings of six separate scientific studies that aimed to understand this concept better.
Each study “examined the role of positive affect (PA) in the experience of meaning in life (MIL).” The outcome measures of the studies consistently showed that positive affect was a strong predictor of meaning in life.
Additionally, priming and manipulating positive moods in participants both resulted in higher reports of meaning in life. And “the most consistent predictor of the experience of meaning in a day was the PA experienced that day.” Researchers concluded that experiencing positive moods and emotions can predispose individuals to see more meaning in life.
12) Improves Emotion Regulation
Emotion regulation is a vital aspect of having a healthy and successful life. A person’s emotional regulation ability directly impacts their coping, problem solving, relationship quality, as well as mental and physical health. When you’re able to focus on the positive aspects of all things, you’re better able to respond to any situation, especially when faced with stress.
If you think negatively and see everything like a catastrophe, your emotions are more likely to spiral out of control. One study showed that individuals who had more positive than negative social interactions had better emotion regulation. With their improved emotion regulation likely mediated by the fact that they experience more positive than negative emotions.
13) Increases Mental Flexibility
Having mental flexibility is important in a person’s life for a variety of reasons. Mental flexibility affects an individual’s learning rate, memory formation, error correction, and allocation of attention resources. With advancements in neuroimaging technology, brain research scientists can now physically see differences between different human brains.
This technology also allows researchers to determine what is causing those differences. The authors of a recent study published in Scientific Reports evaluated what, exactly, leads to a more flexible brain. Their results revealed that more incidences of positive mood states predicted a more flexible brain, or in other words, more mental flexibility.
14) Improves Overall Mental Health
As we can see, thinking positively offers a wide range of mental health outcomes. As such, positive thinking and emotions can improve a person’s mental health overall. But how much positive emotion is needed in a person’s life to achieve these mental health-benefiting effects? Thankfully, two researchers had this very question and discovered the answer.
Their recent study predicted that a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions would “characterize individuals in flourishing mental health.” The data that researchers collected proved that the researcher’s prediction was true and revealed a precise ratio. Individuals who had a mean ratio of positive to negative emotions above 2.9 had flourishing mental health. And individuals who were below the 2.9 ratios of positive to negative emotions did not have flourishing mental health.
PHYSICAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF POSITIVITY
15) Improves Sleep
Insomnia is a common and persistent health concern that can negatively impact many aspects of your life. Suffering from insomnia is very serious and can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression.
Research shows that utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to increase positive thinking benefits sleep quality for individuals with insomnia. CBT improves mental health outcomes by challenging and changing unwanted, negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. Replacing unproductive and frequently harmful ways of thinking with positive thinking. In fact, the authors of this study assessed the outcomes of fifteen scientific trials to determine the effectiveness of CBT for insomnia.
The results of the study revealed that CBT is effective in improving sleep in adults who have insomnia. If you struggle with insomnia thinking positively throughout the day can have a beneficial impact on your sleep quality. In addition to thinking positively, you can try breathing exercises to relieve insomnia and help you fall asleep.
16) Positivity Decreases Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure affects nearly one billion people worldwide and increases the risk of numerous negative health outcomes. High blood pressure can even lead to an early and unexpected death. Consequently, many scientific studies resulted in a better understanding of how people can effectively lower their blood pressure.
One of these studies tested the hypothesis that “high positive emotion would be associated with lower blood pressure in older adults.” Researchers revealed that increasing positive emotions had a significant impact on lowering diastolic and systolic blood pressure in older adults.
17) Improves Immune System Functioning
Several scientific studies have revealed that optimistic expectancies and thinking positively are related to having higher numbers of immune cells. Having improved immunity can save us from many strife and missing out on life due to being sick. Increased immunity can also help to keep us from developing much more serious illnesses than the common cold. This study published by Psychological Science showed that having optimistic expectations was strongly related to having increased cell-mediated immunity (CMI).
18) Increases Lifespan
Decades of research have proven that positive emotions have a beneficial impact on both physical and mental health. It, therefore, makes perfect sense that you can increase your lifespan by simply increasing your positive emotions. This longitudinal study evaluated the impact that positive emotions had on the lifespan of Catholic nuns. Researchers revealed that positive emotions linked strongly to a longer lifespan. The nuns who expressed positive emotions regularly during journal writing activities lived an average of 10 years longer.
19) Reduces Pain and Increases Pain Tolerance
Living with chronic pain is one of the worst things for a person to endure. Being in constant physical pain can have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of your life. There are certainly some types of pain you should never ignore. But other types of pain can be helped by positive thinking. Previous laboratory research has shown that producing positive emotional states increases pain tolerance and reduces pain.
To add to that body of research, scientists evaluated the impact of positive online activities on pain reduction. Their results revealed that participating in online positive activities reduced bodily pain in adults with mild to moderate pain.
20) Reduces Risk of Death from Cardiovascular Disease
Many people understand that having higher stress levels increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. When a person is under stress, stress hormones release into the body. Over time, this causes damage to their cardiovascular system. Conversely, research has shown that dispositional optimism and positive outcome expectancies correlate to a lower risk of cardiovascular complications.
The authors of a consequential longitudinal study evaluated whether optimism and positive expectancies were independently related to reduced cardiovascular mortality. The data gathered over 15 years proved that optimism and positive expectations reduced the risk of cardiovascular death.
21) Improves the Outcome of Serious Physical Health Conditions
We now know that positivity can help to prevent you from becoming ill. And that being positive can also decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, positive attitudes have been shown to improve outcomes in individuals who are already suffering from a serious medical condition. Therefore, researchers also studied the impact of interventions that increase positive emotions in individuals diagnosed with breast cancer and HIV.
Individuals who think more positively and optimistically frequently have better health outcomes. On the other hand, having negative attitudes surrounding survival seems to increase death from a serious medical condition. The authors of one study that demonstrated this assessed whether attitudes toward illness are associated with survival after a stroke.
Results revealed that a person’s attitude regarding their illness was associated with the survival rate in stroke victims. Patients who thought negatively and felt there was nothing they could do to help themselves had a lower survival rate.
22) Positivity Improves Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
Having healthy cholesterol levels improves your health immensely and can help to protect you from developing cardiovascular disease. Most of us know that having a healthy diet and participating in regular exercise are important aspects of controlling our cholesterol levels.