Can Positive Thinking Really Improve Your Health?
By Jonathan Parker
As soon as you think you can’t possibly succeed, “every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight and everything really will move in the direction of failure.” -Daisaku Ideda
Can a positive attitude and hopeful outlook really improve health and wellness? It may seem like a long shot but more and more evidence is finding that positive thinkers have better overall health and well being.
Studies show that people with optimistic personality traits live a healthier life, and there is simply no way to deny that the connection between mind and body wellness is a powerful thing.
One can simply look to the multitude of data on what is referred to as the placebo effect. In 1955, H.K. Beecher held clinical trials in what may have been the first ever study of the physiological effects of simulated treatments. His research showed in almost every case, that about one third of patients experienced some sort of improvement, having received no actual clinical treatments.
Many people are quick to bash this effect for various reasons. Skeptics point to the fact that people often recover from illness unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. Reduction of stress, misdiagnosis, or simply spontaneous improvement. And in many examples, this may be true. However, many of the results could not be explained away.
Psychologist Irving Kirsch, from the University of Connecticut, along with his colleague Dr. Guy Sapirstein analyzed studies tracking depression patients treated with medications, psychotherapy or both. In almost 50% of the cases, they found that improvement in a patient’s condition was more related to the patient’s own perception than any clinical treatment. Is it possible that our bodies can be literally coached into healing themselves?
Everything that we experience is absorbed in a way that has been influenced by our entire lives. What we see, what we hear, what we feel. All of this comes together to form the human experience. More than just our immediate perception of the world around us, it becomes ingrained in our subconscious. Repeated patterns of behavior that result in either reward or punishment create guidelines for how we interact with our reality. These habitual patterns are the fabric of our subconscious. Conscious effort placed into positive thought is probably of little effect. But when repetition wears patterns of behavior into our synapses, our very perception of reality may be altered.
Think of someone you know who lives every day absorbed in a pessimistic attitude. A negative outlook and attitude builds stress and deteriorates your mental well being. For many people, having lived a life filled with pain and depression, it seems like a un-climbable mountain. Is this saying that happy people live forever? No, of course not, but they may just live better. Stress has a way of destroying your body from the inside out. Living with chronic illness, stress and pain affects the very fiber of our being – the soul. Regardless of your belief system, there is no denying that there is an essence or spark that cannot be measured scientifically.
Some of the measured health benefits of positive thinking include:
- Lower Stress Levels
- Longer Life Span
- Improved Coping Skills
- Greater Resistance to Illness
So how to start?
Training your brain is the easy part really, it’s that darn willpower that holds most of us back. A good way to start is by keeping note of all the times you have negative thoughts. If you catch yourself grumbling about a coworker, or a boss. Take a note. Stuck in traffic and screaming at inanimate objects? Definitely note-worthy. Give yourself a few days and write down as many incidents as you can where you felt particularly negative. Recognizing when these moments occur may be easier for some than others. Like certain other programs, admitting there is a problem to begin with is the path to emotional recovery.
When you have some steady documentation, go over it and imagine a different way to think about the problem. Basically, you have to play the devil’s advocate to all the things that irritate or get you down during the day. Some of these forced positive approaches may at first seem way out of left field, but keep this in mind.
You can’t always directly change the things that affect you; you can, however, change HOW they affect you. A good example would be to think about the person that cuts you off in traffic. Your negative approach will be to give an “unfriendly” gesture, yell at your steering wheel, or just make passing comments about their gene pool. With the positive approach, you are trying to flip a switch, in the hopes that repeated conscious actions will lead to subconscious benefits. Maybe they are the sole provider in their house and are late for work; a job loss could mean losing their house, kids suffering, or any number of things. Let the incident go, send a few good thoughts their way in passing and try and move on with your day. Remember, you aren’t doing this for them, you are doing it for you.
These little switches also tend to increase your resilience when dealing with stressful situations, and allow you to take a more realistic approach to problems. You become a solver, turning on the positive centers of your brain such as confidence in your own abilities, and various ways you can improve or negotiate negative situations.
There is no magic fix for any situation. But having a well-stocked arsenal makes for easier battles. And, at the very least, positive thinking can improve your quality of life by improving how you perceive and handle situations, and the benefits of that are immeasurable.
Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle.