Positive thinking is a view of life that sees possibilities in every situation. It recognizes that negative events are controlled by outside forces and are temporary.
Optimism doesn’t ignore reality; it simply expects the best, and in return provides major health benefits. Having a glass-half-full mentality can boost your immune system, reduce stress levels, and improve overall mental and physical well-being.
1. Boosts Immune System
During stressful times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to let negativity take hold. However, focusing on positive ideation can help boost your immune system, which is the body’s first line of defense against bacteria, viruses and toxins.
Optimists are also better at coping with stressors and traumas, as they view them as challenges rather than catastrophes that can’t be overcome. They will devise a strategy for dealing with these situations and seek help and support from others.
Studies show that optimists have better psychological and physical health than pessimists. Optimism buffers the immune response to stress, and it may even reduce the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer that are associated with increased cortisol levels and lowered cellular immunity.
2. Reduces Stress
Stress is a major cause of health problems, from heart disease and diabetes to a greater risk for depression. Positive emotions and attitudes, however, can help reduce your stress levels, improve your ability to manage life’s stresses, boost immune function, strengthen mental health, and increase resilience.
Negative emotions, like fear and anger, narrow the brain’s thoughts, making it easy to focus on a single threat or problem. For example, when a tiger runs past, your mind might only consider how to run away.
When you have a positive mindset, you can retrain your brain to think more broadly and see new options when a problem arises. Focusing on gratitude, joy, and positivity can build strength, resilience, and optimism in your mind. This helps lower cortisol levels, which are known to slow brain function.
3. Improves Sleep
While positive thinking might sound like a cliché self-help tip, research suggests that it isn’t just a feel-good exercise. Optimism can actually reduce your risk of depression and help you sleep better.
In one study, students who were preparing to defend their dissertations reported higher sleep quality when they were optimistic about their chances of passing. This is likely because optimism can lower stress levels and make it easier to drift off into a restful sleep.
A good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook. However, it’s a chicken and egg situation: Does getting good sleep lead to a positive mindset, or does a positive outlook improve sleep? Either way, it’s something to aim for. Boost your mood with positive self-talk and soothing bedtime stories.
4. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Optimism is linked with lower levels of cardiometabolic risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s also associated with better health behaviors such as regular physical activity, following a healthier diet and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol use.
While it’s unclear exactly why optimism is linked to a healthy heart, experts think that having a more positive mindset enables you to cope with stressors more effectively. In addition, being able to see the silver lining in negative situations may prevent some of the harm caused by the body’s stress response.
Embracing positivity requires commitment and consistency. However, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, there are proven ways of cultivating it, including meditation, exercise, random acts of kindness and spending time with loved ones.
5. Increases Self-Esteem
Positive thinking involves anticipating happiness, health and success instead of expecting the worst. Those who aren’t naturally optimistic can practice positive self-talk to shift their mindsets and change negative beliefs that contribute to low self-esteem.
Individuals with high self-esteem are more resilient in the face of challenges and have better coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. They also tend to be more satisfied with their lives, and are less likely to experience depression or chronic stress (Cherry, 2017A).
Developing a positive mindset takes time, but you can start by becoming aware of the negative thoughts that keep your self-esteem low. Then, you can work on replacing those negative beliefs with more positive ones. This will help you see and appreciate the good things in your life, as well as recognize and accept your own unique qualities.