The term “positive thinking” has been in our vocabulary for a while and has come to represent different things—everything from always having a smile, seeing the silver lining in every cloud, to the “think and ye shall receive” mindset. Aside from all the hype, though, research has shown many benefits of thinking less pessimistically and more positively.
Barbara Frederickson developed the Broaden and Build theory, showing that positive emotions broaden our sense of possibility and open our minds up to more options. This expanded “thought-action repertoire”, as Frederickson calls it, then enhances our ability to build skills and develop resources that we can draw on later.
In contrast, as James Clear notes, researchers have found that negative emotions program the brain to do a specific action, such as run when you see a tiger. “The rest of the world doesn’t matter. You are focused entirely on the tiger, the fear it creates, and how you can get away from it.” Even though we are not usually faced with tigers, our brains still respond to negative emotions by shutting out everything around us and focusing on a limited set of actions. When we are stressed or angry, our brains focuses on the negative emotions, which effectively prevents us from seeing additional options and choices that are available.
So, how can we experience more of the benefits of positive thinking?
- Meditate: Frederickson’s research showed that people who practiced daily meditation experienced more positive emotions than those who did not. Even three months after the experiment, those who meditated daily had increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
- Write: A study on The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences found that students who wrote about “intensely positive experiences” for 20 minutes per day for three days still showed better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and fewer illnesses three months later.
- Play: Clear also recommends making time for play. “Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the benefits of positive emotion. Schedule time for play and adventure so that you can experience contentment and joy and explore and build new skills.”
- Perspective: According to an article on Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness, scientists studying the personalities of identical twins have estimated that about 50% of our happiness comes from genes, and about 40% from our daily thoughts and actions. This leaves only 10% that hinges on our life circumstances. Another article gives some perspective about the impression we sometimes have that bad experiences “keep happening” to us: 4 Reasons Why Bad Things Keep Happening To You (+ 7 Ways To Cope).
These articles and blog posts offer more information on the benefits of positive thinking, as well as tips to make it happen: