” The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”Winston Churchill
Having a positive attitude may not cure an illness but it can contribute to your general wellness and help determine how you respond to adversity. Research suggests that optimistic people have stronger immune function and better cardiovascular health.1 An article published in Psychological Science provides evidence that changes in optimistic expectancies are accompanied by changes in immunity. “These results support the validity of psychological interventions to improve immunity and health.”2
Optimism is also linked to lower pain sensitivity and better adjustment to chronic pain. This is because an optimist will tend to be less attentive to the pain and will strive to adjust to the condition.3 We may not always be able to control our circumstances, but we do have the power to change our attitude about how we let circumstances affect us.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean avoiding difficult things. It means that you focus on a positive outcome instead a negative one. Why does this matter? The way people view life events is directly related to their mortality.4 A ten-year study in the Netherlands found that people with a positive attitude were 55% less likely to die than pessimistic people in the same time period.5 Those with sunnier, more positive dispositions were also found to be more resilient to illnesses like the common cold and the flu compared to those with negative attitudes.6
Sometimes being pessimistic can be a way of protecting your feelings. If you expect a bad outcome, then you won’t be surprised or hurt by something when it happens. By disengaging from bad news and not confronting problems, a pessimist may actually protect the body from less cortisol spikes than someone actively immersed in trying to find solutions for stressful situations. However, this does not protect the immune system from the effects of psychological stressors.7 The daily stress resulting from feeling constantly overwhelmed and having negative feelings of anxiety and helplessness can have a physical impact on the body causing inflammation and fueling autoimmune disease.
Sometimes things really are that bad and it’s difficult to imagine a positive outcome. The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that an optimist will try. Confronted with the same circumstances, an optimist and a pessimist will react differently to the same news.
A pessimist will expect a bad outcome. They tend to see problems as permanent. End of the world scenarios, rather than bad luck or a bad day. They may complain and tell themselves how bad things are and that there is nothing they can do about it. A lot of energy is expended focusing on things that frustrate and upset them. A pessimist gets stuck in their own negative story. They’ll complain, but they don’t try to change or improve things and instead let it defeat them. If someone really believes that things will never get better, they won’t.
Optimists expect a good outcome. They tend to view problems as temporary setbacks. Stumbling blocks, not obstructions. Optimists will view a situation, access it and look for effective options to work through any complications. They think, “I will not let this beat me,” or, “What can I do to change this?” They don’t let a negative turn of events, or fear, paralyze them. They use the anxiety and uncertainty to propel themselves forward. They lick their wounds and plant their feet for a fight. They expect things to get better and they take the necessary steps to make that happen. They don’t care if people tell them their actions won’t make a difference. They don’t falter if people don’t believe in them. They know their life is not fated. They have the power to change things. They believe in themselves, and an optimist knows that is enough to turn the tide.
Nobody should go through life stifling negative feelings, pain or grief. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, learn from them and move on. Maybe things will never be the same as they were before but we can adapt. We can look for the positive aspects of our new normal. We can control our perspective. We choose how to react. We choose to give significance to events or situations. Ask yourself if you have jumped to any conclusions? Added judgement? When faced with something distressing, reframe it. Think of the same situation with a good outcome. Try to focus on the beneficial things in your life and what you can control. It’s all about point of view. This is the key to overcoming adversity.
Identify your priorities:
1) Who is important in your life?
2) What is important in your life?
3) What makes you feel healthy and strong?
4) What brings you joy?
5) What gives you hope?
6) What do you envision for your future and how will you make it happen?
It’s all about believing you can change things. Optimism is this feeling deeply ingrained in yourself that anything is possible and you will always find a way. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ll live my life knowing that I tried. So, go ahead and chase those dreams. Live the life you’ve always wanted, not the one you think you’re stuck with. Positive thinking is one of the healthiest habits you can foster. Be that light at the end of a dark tunnel. You’re in control!