I worked with a guy who was always so positive that it got annoying at times. He had this zest for life that didn’t stop.
Nothing ever seemed to get Andy down.
From the first moment in the morning that I saw him to the time he went home, he would tell me and everyone else.
“Look on the sunny side of life.”Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Click To Tweet
“See the glass as half-full, not half-empty.”
He had dozens of phrases like these, hallmarks of his optimism and positive outlook on life.
He was trying to change people’s moods, to lift their spirits.
While I tend to regard myself as a positive person, sometimes it can be hard to look on the bright side of life.
I didn’t always appreciate his upbeat approach.
I owe him an apology. It turns out he was doing more than lifting my spirits.
Researchers are finding that thoughts like these can not only improve health but also extend life.
Benefits of a positive outlook
There can’t be any doubt that the brain influences the body. Our thought processes, in particular, our mindset, affects how our body works and the processes that happen within it.
When facing any health-related crisis, it has been demonstrated many times that cultivating positive emotions boosts the immune system and counters depression.
There is a significant link between a positive outlook and health benefits. Things like healthier blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, less heart disease, and better weight control.
Even when faced with an incurable illness, positive feelings and thoughts can improve one’s quality of life.
A positive outlook means living longer and stronger for people dealing with heart disease.
This from the American Heart Association about the number one killer of adults in the US.The study looked at 607 patients. It found that patients whose moods were overall more positive were 58% more likely to live at least another five years. Click To Tweet
These people exercised more, too.
The scientists can’t say for sure if positivity led to them exercising or if exercising improved their mood.
The important message is the same either way.
Positive thinking and regular physical activity are vital for life.
The chicken-or-egg thing doesn’t bother me at all.
Physical activity improves mood, so if working out makes you feel better, that’s great.
The other side of the coin is that feeling happier and more optimistic helps motivate you to engage in more healthy habits.
That might mean hopping on a treadmill, applying sunscreen, eating more vegetables or all three.
That is a win-win as I see it.
Dr Wendy Harpham has authored several books for people facing cancer.
Nearly 30 years ago, she was a practising internist when she learned she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A cancer of the immune system.
During the 15 years of treatments for her cancer, she set the stage for happiness and hope.
She would surround herself with people who lifted her spirits.
She still keeps a daily gratitude journal.
Every day she would do something good for someone else. And she watched funny and uplifting movies.
“Fostering positive emotions helped make my life the best it could be,” Dr Harpham said. “They made the tough times easier, even though they didn’t make any difference in my cancer cells.”
Dr Harpham maybe like Andy and have a natural disposition to see the hopeful side of life even when the outlook is bleak.
But new research demonstrates that people can learn skills to help them experience more positive emotions.
Even when faced with the severe stress of a life-threatening illness.
A positive outlook and ageingA study of more than 4,000 people 50 and older demonstrated that having a positive view of ageing can have a beneficial influence on health outcomes and longevity. Click To Tweet
Dr Becca Levy said two possible mechanisms account for the findings.
- Psychologically, a positive view can enhance belief in one’s abilities. This decreases perceived stress and fosters healthful behaviours.
- Physiologically, people with positive outlooks on ageing had lower levels of C-reactive protein. This is a marker of stress-related inflammation associated with heart disease and other illnesses.
This remains true even after accounting for possible influences like age, health status, sex, race and education than those with a negative outlook. They also lived significantly longer.
Fostering positive emotions
Judith T. Moskowitz developed a set of eight skills to help foster positive emotions.
In earlier research at the University of California, she and colleagues worked with people with new diagnoses of H.I.V. infection.
They found those who learned the eight skills were less likely to need antidepressants to help them cope with their illness and incredibly carried a lower load of the virus.
The research followed people who had recently learned they were H.I.V. positive. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups; either five sessions of general support or five sessions of positive emotions training.
After fifteen months the subjects were reviewed. Those receiving positive emotions training maintained higher levels of positive feelings and fewer negative thoughts related to their infection.
An essential goal of the training is to help people feel calm, happy, and satisfied despite being in the midst of a health crisis.
Any improvements in their health and longevity are a bonus.
Each participant in the positive emotions training group is encouraged to learn at least three of the eight skills. And they are instructed to practice one or more of the skills each day.
The eight skills are:
- Recognise a positive event each day.
- Savour that event and log it in a journal or tell someone about it.
- Start a daily gratitude journal.
- List a personal strength and note how you used it.
- Set an attainable goal and note your progress.
- Report relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.
- Recognise and practice small acts of kindness daily.
- Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.
Dr Moskowitz inspiration was observing people with Type 2 diabetes, AIDS, and other chronic illnesses living longer when they demonstrated positive emotions.
The next step was to see if fostering positive emotions could be taught and what impact it would have on how well they coped with the stress and their physical health as their conditions progressed.
The goals were to:
- improve patients’ quality of life,
- enhance adherence to medication,
- foster healthy behaviours,
- increase social support by building personal resources
- broader attention to the more enjoyable aspects of life
Another group of researchers set to determine if learning positive emotions skills training would be effective online. They had 49 patients with Type 2 diabetes perform internet-based training. The results show it was effective in enhancing positivity and reducing negative emotions and feelings of stress.
Reviewing prior studies, we know that, for people with diabetes, positive feelings were associated with an increase in healthy eating and physical activity, less use of tobacco, better control of blood sugar, and a lower risk of dying.
Dr Moskowitz undertook several other studies to examine the effectiveness of online positive emotions skills training. Women with advanced breast cancer found the training decreased levels of depression amongst them. Meanwhile, the same was found to be true with the caregivers of dementia patients.
Online positive emotions skills training works. As Dr Moskowitz says, “None of this is rocket science.”
How to get on the positive track
It’s not like you can go to your doctor and get a prescription for positivity. “Go home and tell two jokes to yourself every 4 to 6 hours.”
You have to take the initiative.
A gratitude journal can play a huge role.
Recognise a positive event each day, something that you are grateful for having experienced.
Recording it in a journal helps you savour that event.
Even better, tell your friends about it. Talking about your friends.
Are they people who lift your spirits or do you need to find your Andy?
Could you start every day with the intention to do something good for someone else? When you look to accomplish small acts of kindness, you tend to recognise them when they happen to you.
If you want more options to remember that Dr Moskowitz developed eight skills to help foster a positive outlook.
Make time to laugh
A long time ago I realised I didn’t laugh enough.
So every day I look to inject humour into my life.
You can watch anything as long as it makes you laugh.
Chuckling doesn’t count. It needs to be a full-on laugh.
Hang out with friends who make you laugh. Go to the park for a walk.
Even better if you have a dog. Play with your children or grandchildren.
Humour has been shown to improve immune cell function.
This helps you ward off illness, decreases your chances of cancer and also increases your chance of living after heart disease hits.
Time for those reruns of Friends !!
There are also less apparent choices to enhance your positive outlook. Studies have shown that helping others helps you, too.
Volunteering is a great way to give as much as you get and get as much as you give.
It increases your sense of community which is one of the five foundational elements for living an OUTSTANDING life.
A positive outlook can add years to your life and life to your years. The link between a positive outlook and health benefits is indisputable.
Research shows benefits such as lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control and healthier blood sugar levels. It’s a positive cycle.
The more positivism you practice, the easier it gets and the better you will feel.
What helps you get through those hard times?
Drop a comment below, and let me know how you keep yourself optimistic.