Mention the power of positive thinking to a group of people and there’s a good chance you’ll get an eye-roll. For whatever reason, many people seem resistant to the idea that it could play a constructive part in our lives. Yet, while positive thinking shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a catch-all cure, there’s a wealth of scientific research suggesting it should be taken seriously as a tool for helping us to live our best life possible. Besides making us feel good, a positive outlook brings major bonuses in a range of areas, from job success to our relationships and health. Here are four reasons why it’s worth approaching life with a ‘glass half full’ attitude:
1. It can help to set you up for success
Imagine this scenario: Two candidates are competing for a job opening. They both have the same qualifications, work experience and skills. As they both wait for their interview, candidate one tells herself that she will do well in the interview and has the capacity to be great at the job. She had an interview last week that didn’t result in a job offer, but she’s accepted it and moved on. She knows that she has some good skills and rejection is part of the job-seeking process.
Candidate two, on the other hand, is feeling very negative about the interview before it has even started. She also had an interview last week that didn’t result in an offer, and her thoughts are filled with everything she felt she did wrong. She tells herself she’s terrible at job interviews and worries that she won’t be any good at the job either.
Based purely on this information, if you had to bet on who did better at the interview and won the job, I’m guessing you’d put your money on candidate number one. And there’s good reason for this. When you think positively, this translates into your body language, how you speak and your actions. You’ll likely smile more and sit up straighter, come across as more likeable (people tend to gravitate towards positive energy) and your ability to sell yourself in a scenario like an interview will come across as believable and genuine.
Interestingly, research also suggests that positive thinking influences your ability to problem solve, analyse and think creatively – another point in favour of candidate one in the face of curveball interview questions!
2. It can have a positive influence your mood
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise (positive thoughts can lead to a more positive mood – who knew?), but it’s worth looking into some scientific studies that explore this relationship. It could be easy to put the relationship down to the idea that happy people are naturally more prone to optimistic thoughts (thus further reinforcing their sunny outlook). However, research suggests that actively focusing on the good in life can also have a positive influence.
For example, a 2018 study asked participants in a control group to write about something neutral (such as what they were planning to do the next day), then asked another group to write about the best experience of their life. Those that wrote about the best experience of their life reported less stress even after four weeks of follow up.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
– Anais Nin
3. It can have a positive impact on your health
It’s been pretty well drummed into us that over the long term stress and worry can have negative effects on your health. What’s often less emphasised, however, is the other side of the coin – the long-term health effects of positive thinking. In a study from the University of Kentucky, researchers studied the autobiographies of a group of young nuns living in the same convent and rated the content of their autobiographies on a scale of positivity. When the researchers contacted the nuns sixty years later they found a strong correlation between the positivity scores and longevity of life.
In another study, researchers found that among people with a family history of heart disease, those with a positive outlook were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack. In short, the way that we think doesn’t just impact on the health of our mind – it can also influence the outcomes of our physical health.
4. You’ll have a positive effect on those around you
If you’re not convinced by the piles of proof for your own health and success, there’s also a more selfless reason to take positive thinking seriously: it can have a positive impact on those around you. The emotions you express, whether they are negative or positive, tend to be contagious.
In fact, a recent study (I know, more proof - you're welcome!) conducted by Harvard, found that having a happy, positive friend in your close network increases your chance of being happy by 25 percent. They discovered that happiness can spread in ‘waves’, affecting people even in the third degree of separation.
If you’re prone to the odd negative Facebook post, it pays to keep in mind that this effect applies to the online world too. In one study that tracked the emotional responses of Facebook users, it was found that simply reading positive posts provoked good feelings in 64 percent of people. Just another great reason to hit the unfollow button on the news, the complainers and the negative Nellies, and go give nice Nellie and big thumbs up!
As all these studies reflect, a positive outlook has good consequences for everyone; yourself, your close friends and even that random person you met once and added on Facebook. Given all the benefits it can bring, it’s about time we started taking positive thinking seriously!
So how do you do it?
Drop your suggestions in the comments below.