by Carol Bazis, LCSW-C
“Think positively.” How many times have you heard this phrase or said it to someone else? Probably more times than you can recall. Well, there is something to be said about positive thinking with science to support it.
Positive thinking can be described as being able to think optimistically or on the bright side. It is the ability to focus on the good in any given situation. So, how does positive thinking have an impact on our mental and/or physical health? A research study conducted at Johns Hopkins Cardiac Care Center found that people with a family history of heart disease were less likely to have cardiac problems when they had a positive attitude about their wellbeing. Researchers suspect that people who are more positive are protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. It is also believed that positive thoughts lead to better decisions and/or life choices that lead to a favorable outcome. In sum, an optimistic outlook resulted in improved health.
There is science to back up how our brain, the most important organ in our body, effects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Simply stated, every thought, whether positive or negative, stimulates certain electrochemical or neurochemical processes in the body. When positive thoughts are generated, cortisol, our body’s main stress hormone, decreases and the brain produces serotonin, which creates a feeling of well-being. When serotonin levels are normal, one feels happy, calmer, less anxious, more focused, and more emotionally stable (Scaccia, 2017, as cited in Whitaker, n.d.). In other words, positive thoughts lead to a sense of well being sent from the chemicals in your brain. So, continue to think positively about how you can and will effectively respond to your external world!
The theory behind Positive Psychology is described as the scientific study of what makes people “thrive” or “what makes life worth living”. It is similar in many ways to other areas of psychology, but rather than the focus being on overcoming weaknesses and/or problems, the intent is to focus on character strengths and behaviors. Positive psychology is used by educators, therapists, businesses, and as a self-help tool.
So, what can you do to foster positive attitudes towards yourself or your life events? Here are some tips to get you started:
• Practice gratitude. Write in a gratitude journal each day and acknowledge the kindness of other people.
• Learn and practice positive self-talk. Replace negative thought patterns with more positive ones. For example, instead of saying “I am too tired to go to work,” tell yourself, “I’m really tired but once I get there I’ll be fine”.
• Learn to reframe things. Accept that if you can’t change something, you can find a replacement thought or action. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, rather than getting stressed out, play your favorite music or call a friend.
• Find ways to laugh and smile more. According to a University of Kansas study, smiling can help during stressful situations, even if the smiles are fake. Find ways to smile and laugh to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, whether it’s by watching a funny video or spending time with your friends.
• Follow a healthy lifestyle. Eat nutritious food and exercise daily. You will gain an improved sense of wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
• Build resiliency. Learn to adapt to stressful and/or negative situations and losses. Do this by maintaining good relationships with family and friends, accepting that change is a part of life, and taking action on problems rather than just hoping they disappear or waiting for them to resolve themselves.
The benefits of positive thinking can have a remarkable impact on our physical and mental health. Studies have shown that blood pressure can be lowered, we can live longer, we can experience decreases in cardiac problems, and we can experience stronger immunity. Having a more optimistic view can also benefit our emotional well-being by lowering the risk of depression, improving problem solving and coping skills, and helping us be more creativity. So, it’s time to think positively!
Ikonov, Aleksandra. (2018). Positive thinking and the brain. YouthTime Magazine.
John Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). The power of positive thinking. John Hopkins Medicine: Health.
Sherwood, Alison. (2022). What is positive thinking? WebMD.
Whitaker, Lou. (n.d.). How does thinking positive thoughts affect neuroplasticity. Meteor Education.