The Power of a Positive Outlook to Improve Your Health

9 minute read

“There is good in everything.” “The glass is half-full not half-empty.”

We are all familiar with phrases like this and the concept of positive thinking. Life can throw you some curveballs and challenges are a part of your day, yet you always hear about the power of positive thinking.  

It comes down to being simply a case of mind over matter. Regardless of the situation or circumstances around you, maintaining a positive outlook can make a difference, which is why it is popular with many athletes.  

Not only are you better able to cope with life’s challenges, but positivity seems to improve your health too.

Positive Power of Your Brain

Science long ago confirmed that what happens in your brain impacts what happens in your body.  Studies have shown a strong link between having a positive view and health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, reduced levels of stress, less risk of heart disease, healthier blood sugar levels, and better weight control.  

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In fact, when facing a health crisis, positivity helps to boost your immune system and counter any depression and negative thought patterns. Even when that crisis is an incurable disease, a positive mindset can improve your quality of life.

Facing a disease like cancer can be devastating and scary, two feelings that automatically promote negative emotions. If not balanced, these can spiral out of control and drag you deeper and deeper into despair and depression.

An older woman and a younger woman smiling at each other

Positive tactics, such as surrounding yourself with loved ones, keeping a daily gratitude journal, watching funny movies, and doing something for another person are all perfect ways to challenge that negative outlook with some powerful positivity.

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A positive and uplifting mood will not physically change the disease or heal the cells, but it changes the way you look at the world. It makes the tough times and the struggles easier.  

Some people naturally gravitate towards having a hopeful side when confronting challenges, but others do not. There are, however, skills that can be learned to help those individuals experience more positive emotions in the face of fear and stress.  

Eight Necessary Skills

A study from Northwestern University found that there are eight skills a person should employ to foster positive emotions. The research involved patients newly diagnosed with HIV.

Patients that practiced these skills presented with a lower viral load and were more likely to take their medication correctly. Additionally, they were less likely to need antidepressants to help them cope with the new diagnosis and the illness itself.

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The groups studied were either placed in a five-session positive emotions training class or five sessions of general HIV support. Those trained with the eight positive emotion skills maintained positive outlooks and had fewer negative emotions or thoughts regarding their illness.  

Sunset in the forest

The skills learned were in no way going to change the course of the disease, but the patients’ lives were changed in the sense that they no longer viewed it with doom and gloom.  

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It is important for those dealing with a health crisis to feel happy and calm, which these eight skills promote. The added benefit of improved health and possible longevity are just the cherry on top of the life sundae.

Skills to Improve Your Mind

The purpose of the positive emotion skills training sessions is to encourage individuals to learn at least three of them and to practice one or more every single day. The eight skills are:

Recognize and Identify a Positive Event Every Day: Taking a moment to dwell on a positive thing that has occurred allows your mind to experience a positive feeling, and also keeps your mind from dwelling on whatever other negative thoughts might be floating around.

Log the Positivity: Cherish and savor the event by telling someone about it or logging it into a journal

Keep a Gratitude Journal: Start a daily gratitude journal to remind yourself of all the things in your life to be grateful for. This drags your thoughts naturally into a positive state and away from focusing on the challenges and feelings of despair.

Older woman laughing while talking over the phone

Stay Strong: List a personal strength you have and how you have used it to remind yourself that you have overcome challenges in the past.

Work Towards a Goal: Set an attainable goal and keep note of your progress. Even by achieving something small, you feel good about the sense of accomplishment, and it naturally generates positive feelings and drive.

Be Kind Whenever Possible: Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily. Facing a challenge or illness can create a darkness in your life. Identifying the good helps to counter this. There is nothing that displays “good” more than when people help you or when you are able to help others.

Focus on Solving a Problem, Not Just the Problem Itself: Report a relatively minor stress in your life and document the ways to reappraise the event in a positive light. This helps to train your brain to look at situations from a different and more positive perspective.

Keep Your Mind in the Moment: Practice mindfulness, focusing on the present and not the past or future. Anxiety, depression, and fear come from worrying about things we did or things we cannot control. Since we are not able to change the past or control the future, it is healthier to stay mentally where we are physically: in the present.

Positivity Breeds Longevity

Even if the disease or challenge cannot be beaten, positive emotions have been shown to extend quality of life. Observations of patients with HIV and diabetes as well as other chronic illnesses living for longer are documented.  

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A happy woman hiking by a coastal line

The skills that are learned help improve life by fostering healthy behaviors, building a personal resource bank, which results in increased social support, and more attention paid to the good things in life.  

A positive view enhances your self-belief in your own abilities and fosters positive and health-promoting behaviors. The biological link lies in C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation.  

The presence of this marker is known to cause heart disease and other serious health problems. Those with positive attitudes and outlooks have been found to have lower levels of this marker and less stress-related inflammation, which means living significantly longer.

The Bottom Line

Positive skills training reminds patients or struggling individuals to rely on their social networks and that showing weakness is a true sign of strength. Instead of denying the challenges and giving into their darker side, embrace them and acknowledge their presence.  

This acceptance of a weakness inherently makes you stronger and happier at the same time. A positive mind causes behavioral changes, and those changes lower your risk of dying and increase longevity. So stare your challenges directly in the eye and smile.

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