Positive thinking is often linked with good health outcomes, with an optimistic outlook known to improve stress management, enhance mental health, limit memory decline, and even reduce heart disease. While thinking of unicorns and rainbows probably won't cure all your ills, there is definitive scientific evidence highlighting the power of positive thought. While the exact mechanisms behind this phenomenon remain unknown, an optimistic outlook seems to influence the mind-body connection and reduce the harmful effects of stress on the body.
The type of positive thinking associated with everyday optimism is a key element of effective stress management, strong mental health, and reliable memory formation and retrieval. According to a new study published in the Association for Psychological Science, people who feel enthusiastic and cheerful more often are less likely to experience memory decline as they age. Psychologists call this the 'positive affect', and amazingly, it could impact your ability to retain information throughout your entire life.
In the study, a team of researchers analysed data from middle-aged and older adults at three separate time periods. In each assessment, participants reported on a range of positive emotions, with tests of memory performance also completed during the final stage. According to Claudia Haase, an associate professor at Northwestern University and senior author of the paper, "Our findings showed that memory declined with age... However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade."
A number of other studies have linked positive thought with good health outcomes, including a study from Johns Hopkins and another study from the University of Kansas. According to findings from Johns Hopkins expert Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., positive thinking can have a profound effect on the health of our hearts. In the study, people with a family history of heart disease who had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event compared to those with a negative outlook. In the other study by the University of Kansas, smiling was found to reduce heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations, and surprisingly, even fake smiling was found to be beneficial.
While thinking positively comes easier to some people than others, there are many ways to learn positive thinking skills and improve health outcomes. Mindfulness is an important skill on the road towards positivity, with people needing to identify negative thoughts before they can reduce them. Filtering negative thoughts can be a great life skill, as can the recognition and avoidance of catastrophising and polarising thoughts. Sometimes, optimism comes simply by focusing on positive things and giving yourself permission to feel good about everyday events. Following a healthy lifestyle can also have a profound effect on positivity, so eat well, exercise regularly, and get the rest you need to relax and approach life with clarity and confidence.