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.