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 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 directly impacts our reality, for better or worse. And a multitude of scientific research has proven 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 prioritizing 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 with abundant 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 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, thinking positively means trying to remain optimistic about current and future situations. It is a deliberate, conscious way of thinking that directly impacts 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 a positive attitude and outlook on life predicts 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 optimistic 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 impacts 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 with chronic health conditions have an incredibly high risk of developing depression. Much research helps counselors and therapists better understand how to 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 also been observed in individuals who do not suffer from a chronic illness. 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 various treatment options for individuals who suffer from anxiety.
One treatment option involves training 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 significantly decreased 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 states that this “in turn, builds that individual’s personal resources.” All of which result in improved mental clarity, focus, and concentration.
6) Increases Gratitude
In several scientific studies, gratitude has improved overall well-being and mental health. Defining the mediating factor between improved gratitude and improved well-being and mental health is also essential. 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 reframing serve as the mechanisms 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. Various scientific studies have evaluated the relationship between positive thinking and higher self-esteem. This study demonstrated that the more a child thinks negatively about their abilities, the lower their self-esteem. The opposite is true, as well. The more positively you think about your abilities, your self-esteem will increase.
8) Decreases Risk of Mental Health Problems
In countless scientific studies, practicing positive thinking and optimism proves protective against developing mental health problems. 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 more optimistic individuals had lower levels of hostility and depression while preparing to undergo surgery. And in the week following the operation, the optimistic people felt greater relief and happiness than the 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 many negative outcomes caused by stress. Among the adverse 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 with 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 can 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 can 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
Mental flexibility is important in a person’s life for various 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 significantly lowered diastolic and systolic blood pressure in older adults.
17) Improves Immune System Functioning
Several scientific studies have revealed that optimistic expectancy 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 positively impact 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 to endure. Being in constant physical pain can hurt 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 understand that higher stress levels increase 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 improved outcomes in individuals already suffering from a severe 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 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 a healthy diet and regular exercise are important for controlling our cholesterol levels.
However, having an optimistic attitude also connects with having a healthy lipid profile (i.e., healthy cholesterol levels). The authors of one study assessed the impact that optimism and positive affect had on an individual’s cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Their results revealed that having higher optimism and positivity was correlated with healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
23) Decreases Risk of Heavy Substance Use
Heavy use of any addictive substance can lead to long-term physical health problems and even death. Not to mention the negative impact that heavy substance use is known to have on mental health and relationships. Young people are at an exceptionally high risk of experiencing negative outcomes due to heavy substance use.
Fortunately, research shows us that positive attitude and outlook on life decreases adolescents’ risk of heavy substance use. One longitudinal study assessed the impact of optimistic thinking on 5,634 adolescent’s emotional states, substance use, and behavior. Their data showed that high optimism and positive emotions had protective effects against heavy substance use.
24) Decreases Risk of Frailty During the Aging Process
Frailty describes a person’s impaired strength, endurance, and balance. Frailty increases an individual’s risk of experiencing physical trauma and other stressors, including disability, morbidity, and mortality. Preventing or delaying the onset of frailty is essential in improving a person’s physical health and lifespan. This study published in Psychology and Aging assessed the long-term association between positive affect and the onset of frailty. Results revealed that high positive affect (i.e., positive emotions) significantly lowered the risk of frailty.
25) Improves Athletic Performance
We now understand how positive thinking and attitudes can improve our physical health and abilities. It, therefore, makes sense that positive thinking can also improve athletic performance. Several scientific studies have demonstrated this effect, including this study about the impact of positivity on an athlete’s performance.
Results demonstrated a significant relationship between an athlete’s levels of optimism, positive emotions, and athletic performance. Specifically, soccer players with more optimistic attitudes showed better athletic performance than pessimistic soccer players.
Another study assessed the ability of a positive psychological development program to improve the swimming abilities of national-level swimmers. The program aimed to increase the professional swimmer’s ability to think positively, including optimistic disposition and positive affect development. Results revealed a significant improvement in the swimming strokes of those who participated in the program, including positive thinking.
HOW POSITIVITY BENEFITS RELATIONSHIPS AND OVERALL SUCCESS
26) Improves Leadership Skills
Positive thinkers have an improved ability to make the right decisions in high-pressure situations compared to pessimists. Positive thinking allows a person to focus on solutions instead of the problem and potential obstacles. And as explained above, positive thinkers tend to have more mental clarity, concentration, and focus. Therefore, positive people make much better leaders. Furthermore, positive leaders are perceived as more trustworthy and competent.
27) Increases the Chance of Career Advancement and Financial Success
As explained above, positive thinkers have improved leadership skills and remain positive, even in stressful situations. Consequently, companies are much more likely to hire a positive person for a leadership role. This increases their chances of career advancement and financial success. Dr. Martin Seligman conducted more than 30 years of research demonstrating this outcome with over 1 million study participants.
The analysis of Seligman revealed that a person’s optimistic expectations and positive attitude led to superior achievement in sales. Confident and positive salespeople have been proven to sell more and have higher incomes than negative salespeople. Seligman concluded that this is because a positive person has the persistence that they need to overcome adversity.
28) Increases Productivity and Work Performance
There have been many economic and workplace changes over the past few decades. Many of these changes are not for the best and have negatively impacted both employees and companies. One aspect of positive psychology is understanding how to use positivity for better employment outcomes at work.
The authors of one article evaluated how utilizing positive psychology could improve the workplace, including employee productivity and job performance. Results revealed that when motivation is externally controlled, increased positive emotions are likely to be associated with increased motivation. The data demonstrated that enhancing experiences of positive emotions result in increases in productivity and better performance outcomes.
29) Increases Success Rates in Relationships
Much scientific research has shown that positive people are more successful in marriage and friendship, among other things. The authors of this review of research analyzed numerous studies that assessed whether or not positive affect increased relationship success. The results revealed, “that happiness is associated with and precedes numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviors paralleling success.”
Additionally, the evidence showed that positive affect, a critical factor in well-being, directly impacts a person’s increased happiness and relationship success. This is because positive emotions and attitudes increase satisfaction. And happy people have more fulfilling and satisfying marriages. Generally, researchers state that these findings “generalize to other romantic relationships” and also to friendships.
30) Increases Ability to Forgive
Forgiveness is an essential aspect of any successful relationship. Furthermore, forgiveness has a direct impact on mental health. Previous research links a person’s ability to forgive and improved mental health. Additionally, a connection between positivity and forgiveness resulted from the study.
The authors of a study published by The Journal of Social Psychology state that affective states mediate the relationship between forgiveness and mental health. Specifically, having more positive emotions allows someone to be able to forgive which leads to improved mental health more quickly. Researchers state that “forgiveness involves replacing the negative emotions associated with unforgiveness with positive, love-based emotions.” They explain “that it is through this transformation of emotional states that forgiveness affects physiological functioning.”
Positivity works wonders.
Decades of scientific research have clarified that positive emotions and attitudes bring many benefits. Thinking positively proves to benefit our mental and physical health, as well as our relationships and careers. With so many studies demonstrating how powerful positive thinking is, who wouldn’t want to cultivate and practice using positive thinking today?
Like any life skill, consistently learning to think positively will take time and practice. But as this article has demonstrated, it is worth doing for countless reasons. Of course, nobody expects you to be positive every single second of every single day. No one can do that. Even the happiest and most positive people have moments in which they feel and express hopelessness and negativity. That is a part of the human condition. But the more you can incorporate positivity into your daily routines, the more beneficial outcomes you will see.
Here at the Power of Positivity, we want to do everything we can to help everyone live happy, healthy, and prosperous lives. And as the research in this article proves, having a positive outlook can help you accomplish this.