The Impact Of Positive Thought

From as far back as I can remember, my mother’s most recurring piece of advice has been to ‘think positively’ and ‘surround myself with good thoughts’. She believed that any situation or mood could be changed by altering the way one thought. As we all get older, we look back on our parents words of advice a little more seriously, and from this, I’ve raised the question, ‘just how much can positive thinking impact one’s life?’

Surprisingly enough, it didn’t take long to find results on the benefits of optimism. Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord found that optimism is linked directly to life longevity. Back in the 1960, these group of researchers categorized a group of medical patients based on their attitudes as pessimistic, optimistic or a mixture of both. It was found that “for every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%” (Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord, 2000) That’s a large percentage as the  risk of early death between smokers and non-smokers was found to hover only between 5-10%. So perhaps positive thinkers really do have an advantage over the pessimists. Not only does positive thinking have an impact on one’s future life as shown in that study, but it also has an immediate effect on the immune system. It was found that “greater optimism predicted greater antibody production and better immune outcomes” (Kohut, Cooper, Nickolaus, Russell, & Cunnick, 2002). They found that people who often had a negative disposition were at a higher risk for being sick more often. Positive thinking has also been shown to help prevent future addictions, such as alcohol or gambling. One of the main reasons that addictions form is from life trauma (though it is far from the only reason, trauma does play a frequent role) and a positive attitude has been shown to assist individuals in coping and moving forward with their life after terrible experiences. (Zeidner & Hammer, 1992) If one can properly cope and recovery, then an addiction is much less likely to form.

So there’s no doubt that positive thinking can have a clear effect on a personal level, but what about how it changes the way we see the world? In one study conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, participants were separated into groups. These groups were then exposed to images that invoked emotions, either positive or negative. After, they were asked to write down their thoughts in a sentence that started with “I would like to…” It was found that when the group of subjects were exposed to negative images that induced fear, they wrote down fewer responses about what they would do. When the second group of subjects were shown the positives images that created feelings of joy and peace, the participants had much more to write down about what they would like to do. After being repeated with multiple groups and finding the same results, it was concluded that when positive thoughts and feelings are experienced, people see more possibilities within their life. (Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of Michigan) Negative emotions like fear and sadness have been shown to psychologically cloud the brain, and block out significant parts of ones world during the experience. Ever wonder why people with negative attitudes can be so narrow minded and ready to just give up? This could be the start of a scientific explanation as to why. After all, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” (Winston Churchill).

Though this is just the surface of how positive emotions and thinking can impact one’s life, it begins to paint a vivid picture of just how powerful the human mind can be, and how important it is to choose your mood and thoughts carefully. After all, it’s choice we can only make for ourselves.


6 thoughts on “The Impact Of Positive Thought

  1. I find this an interesting topic for elderly people and how optimism helps them. I found that as older people age, they get more optimistic but their satisfaction decreases. The suggestion for why satisfaction decreases is not from fear of death but from the realization of the tasks associated with aging. In this case, optimism is still believed to be beneficial to their health, but it does not satisfy them any better.

    One thing I wonder about is how optimism might affect elderly people to report illnesses. For elderly people living by themselves, it is important to keep family or friends notified if they aren’t feeling good so that they can be looked after. Older people are more prone to illnesses and serious complications and should be attended to as soon as possible. If the person is optimistic and believes they just have a minor sickness that will get better on its own, they might not tell anyone that they are sick. This could quickly turn into them becoming very sick without anybody to help them.

    Lennings, C.J. (2000). Optimism, satisfaction, and time perspective in the elderly. International Journal of Aging & Human Development. 51(3) 167-181.


  2. I found an interesting article on visualization and how it can increase positive thinking. The study looked at speech anxiety in students and found that when they visualized their speech it made them think more positively from it and thus decreasing the anxiety. The is a really interesting article and I totally believe in the power of positive thinking.

    ayres, J. (1988). Coping with speech anxiety: The power of positive thinking. Communication Education.


  3. Great post, Rachel! I agree that positive thinking leads to a more fulfilled and stress-free life. To add to your post on the influence of positive thoughts, Schwartz (1986), called this ‘internal dialogue’. An interesting characteristic of the internal dialogue that has been discovered involves asymmetrical relationships between positive and negative coping thoughts. The asymmetry between positive and negative thoughts supports the notion that, all things being equal, negative thoughts interfere with coping more than positive though facilitate it. it appears that negative events and cognitions are more salient and make a greater impact than positive ones-that negative thoughts and feelings, relative to positive, may be more central to adaptation. He goes further to state that both positive and negative thoughts influence clinical dysfunctions, but there is a stronger relationship on the negative dimension. And, it may be more critical to eliminate these negative thoughts than to establish positive ones, at least as the final endpoint of treatment.

    Schwartz (1986)*~hmac=a1feabc406bcba3dc42362f29eab2ebb8f6df129f1b4774d61b99973add7e5a8


  4. Hello Rachel. I can relate with you in the sense that my parents always encouraged me to be positive and that everything will be ok. When you are surrounded by positive people, they influence you to be positive and the same with people who are negative, tend to influence the people around them negatively. During World War II an Austrian Psychologist, Victor Frankl was imprisoned at Auschwitz. Victor Frankl was stripped to naked existence. His father, mother, brother and his wife were sent to the gas chambers except his sister. Every possession lost and every value destroyed, suffering hunger, cold and brutality, expecting to be executed at any time, Victor could still stay positive and find life worth preserving. As a psychologist he played a vital role in the mental state of the Jewish prisoners. He encourage hundreds of men and women who wanted to commit suicide in the concentration camps to be positive and think about their life after the concentration camp. They can become teachers, doctors, artists, musicians, mothers and fathers.


  5. This reminded me of how power stances can affect confidence and optimism, and I found a great TED Talk on the topic. It shows that there is some substance to the phrase “fake it ’til you make it.” People who focus on bettering their posture when they feel weak or small will almost immediately feel better about themselves. She says that people who do a “high-power” pose for two minutes are 26% more likely to take risks and gamble. There is also a testosterone increase, leading to higher confidence and feeling of power. It goes to show that something as simple as thinking happy thoughts or sitting with your body spread out can influence mental and physical well-being.


  6. Great post. This reminded me of the book “the secret” written by rhonda byrne. The basic idea of the book is around the law of attraction. So, similarly to positive thinking, you think it, it will happen. A great post about this can be found here:
    The problem comes from living a positive life and looking to always have a positive attitude can potentially give you tunneled vision. Now, i’m not saying that you need to be a pessimist and never look to the positive sides of things, i’m saying proceed with caution. I believe that when someone uses a positive attitude AND is aware of the reality of a situation, then progress can be made. Holden (2004) speaks to the point that in the case of being positive with cancer patients, it may actually be more harmful than good by giving false hope.

    Holden, C. (2004). Limits of positive thinking. Science, 303(5661), 1134. Retrieved from


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