You’ve probably heard the advice to “think positive.” While it might sound like a non-specific, non-scientific hooey, there is actually evidence that positive thoughts can benefit both your physical and your mental health. If you tend to see the glass as half-empty, check out this list of ways that putting on your rose-colored glasses can help, as well as some tips for pushing your attitude to make it a bit more optimistic.
Lower Rates of Depression
People who describe themselves as pessimists are more likely to suffer from depression than those who describe themselves as optimists. Part of this is attributed to optimists naturally looking for the silver linings while they are going through difficult circumstances. They see unfortunate situations as temporary and they tend to explain bad things as flukes. For example, if an optimist had his or her car broken into, they might say, “well, most people are good; this was just one of those things.”
By focusing on positive thoughts rather than the negative, they might be less predisposed to depression, anxiety, and some other mental health conditions. When optimists do become depressed, they might be more likely to recover more quickly than those who tend to be more pessimistic.
Better Coping Skills
An optimist tends to see challenges as opportunities to improve or to experience something new. If he or she was under a lot of stress when it came to a difficult boss, for example, they might try to think of ways to do their job better, to make the boss happy, or to burn off some of their frustrations at the gym or by immersing themselves in a hobby.
Positive thoughts can help you see the good side of a challenge. You might begin to appreciate your own strengths as you persevere through difficult situations. Because positive thinkers tend to see setbacks as temporary, they are less likely to fall into despair when presented with an obstacle. Instead of relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms (isolating themselves or self-medicating with substances), they are more likely to engage in self-reflection, journaling, relaxation techniques, and other healthy ways of coping.
More Friends and Support
When you think positively, you’re more likely to smile and speak pleasantly to others. Someone who is focusing on negative thoughts probably has a sad, worried, or angry look on their face. They might feel overwhelmed by stress and snap at other people. A person who makes it a habit to think positively is more likely to have positive friends. These friends can offer the support and help that everyone needs to get through hard times. Having friends, particularly positive and supportive friends, can make you happier and improve your mental health.
Better Overall Health
Science says that optimists live longer and are less likely to develop heart disease and other serious health conditions that can cut a lifespan short. Part of the reason is due to their response to stress; rather than internalizing it and dealing with the subsequent high blood pressure, they tend to look on the bright side and focus more on thoughts that are calming and positive.
They’re also more likely to get the sleep they need, exercise regularly, and eat well. All of these habits positively impact not only your physical health but also your mental health. Studies show that people who are sleep-deprived are likely to suffer mentally, and exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Tips on Having More Positive Thoughts
If you tend to focus on the negative or you just don’t have a lot of positivity in your life right now, there are some ways you can turn the situation around and learn to be more of an optimist.
1. Write Down Something You’re Thankful for Every Day
Keeping a gratitude journal helps you to focus on the positive things that happened over the course of a day. Before long, gratitude and noticing those silver linings become habits; when you go through challenging situations, your thoughts will naturally gravitate toward the positive rather than the negative.
2. Speak Aloud Some Affirmations in the Morning
When you wake up, think about the characteristics you’d like to have, then say them out loud. Some examples might be, “I am a strong and optimistic person,” “I look on the bright side of any situation,” or “I take steps to improve my mental health.” These types of affirmations create a self-fulfilling prophecy; you might be surprised at how much your attitude changes just by saying your goals out loud.
3. Surround Yourself with Optimists
Your attitude is either helped or hindered by the people around you. If your friends tend to complain and see the cup as half-empty, you are likely to begin to take on those characteristics. On the other hand, if they tend to look for the positive side of any situation, you might find yourself doing the same. Keeping yourself surrounded by positivity and cutting as much negativity as you can out of your life is good for your mental health even if you are a staunch optimist.
4. Make Time for Fun in Your Life
If all you do is work and attend to household responsibilities, it’s easy to get into a rut of negativity. Instead, find some time to squeeze in pleasurable activities. It might be that you spend 15 minutes per day reading romance novels, or maybe you can take an evening per week to watch the sunset on the beach. Think about what you might enjoy doing, then make time to fit it into your week.
Thinking positively can make you healthier in many ways. Look for opportunities that you can exercise your optimism muscle; if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can develop a more positive attitude. When you consider all of the benefits of positive thoughts, you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort to cultivate more of a can-do attitude in your life.