2015 was a challenging year for me. My husband, my dog and my Dad died all within eight months leaving me feeling lost and incredibly sad. Friends and family were amazed at my “courage”. I don’t know if this is the word that accurately describes how I managed to handle my grief and continue to be both positive and productive; I think that the thing that helps me to stay strong and keep moving forward is my ability to think positive.
So what exactly is positive thinking? You might be tempted to assume that it implies seeing the world through rose-colored glasses by ignoring or glossing over the negative aspects of life. However, positive thinking actually means approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It does not necessarily mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things; instead, it involves making the most of potentially bad situations, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.
Some researchers, including positive psychologist Martin Seligman, often frame positive thinking in terms of explanatory style. Your explanatory style is how you explain why events happened.
People with an optimistic explanatory style tend to give themselves credit when good things happen, but typically blame outside forces for bad outcomes. They also tend to see negative events as temporary and not typical.
On the other hand, individuals with a pessimistic explanatory style often blame themselves when bad things happen, but fail to give themselves adequate credit for successful outcomes.
They also have a tendency to view negative events as expected and lasting. As you can imagine, blaming yourself for events outside of your control or viewing these unfortunate events as a persistent part of your life can have a detrimental impact on your state of mind.
Positive thinkers are more apt to use an optimistic explanatory style, but the way in which people attribute events can also vary depending upon the exact situation. For example, a person who is generally a positive thinker might use a more pessimistic explanatory style in particularly challenging situations, such as at work or at school.
The Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
In recent years, the power of positive thinking has gained a great deal of attention thanks to self-help books such as The Secret and Louise Hay’s book, “You can Heal Your Life”. While these psychology books often tout positive thinking as a sort of psychological panacea, empirical research has found that there are many very real health benefits linked to positive thinking and optimistic attitudes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking is linked to a wide range of health benefits including:
- Longer life span
- Less stress
- Lower rates of depression
- Increased resistance to the common cold
- Better stress management and coping skills
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
- Increased physical well-being
- Better psychological health
One study of 1,558 older adults found that positive thinking could also reduce frailty during old age.
Clearly, there are many benefits of positive thinking, but why exactly does positive thinking have such a strong impact on physical and mental health? One theory is that people who think positively tend to be less affected by stress. Another possibility is that people who think positively tend to live healthier lives in general; they may exercise more, follow a more nutritious diet and avoid unhealthy behaviors.
Without sounding like one big cliché here is my advice to those of you who struggle to stay positive:
- Look for the silver lining
- Laugh everyday
- Talk it out, hug it out and walk it off
- Surround yourself with positive people
- When bad things happen remember that, “this too shall pass”.
- When all else fails take a goofy picture of yourself and post it to a public blog!⇒