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Mental well-being

The benefits of positive thinking

The world needs a little more positivity atm—especially when it's scientifically proven to do you good.

Laura Sugden
Lead Copywriter and Health Coach
October 19, 2020
4 min read

Fill your mind with positive thoughts. Put your positivity out into the universe, and good things will come to you. Manifest what you want. Visualise your best future. The advantages of positive thinking are everywhere—its fans ranging from the evangelical to the sceptical converts, and everyone in between.

But, what’s the science behind it? And are the benefits of positive thinking proven, or hearsay?

What does positive thinking do to your brain?

When you have a positive thought or experience feelings of joy, happiness, or optimism, serotonin is released in the brain. Serotonin is the “happy” hormone that improves your mood, and creates a sense of well-being; your brain’s positive mindset Jedi force if you will. This serotonin release helps to decrease cortisol levels, which, if left unchecked (by dwelling on negative thoughts, for example), can lead to slower brain function, and even the development of depression. So, in this instance, cortisol is your brain’s dark side.

6 proven ways to improve your positive thinking

  • Crack a smile - Smiling can have huge knock-on benefits on the brain, in your body, and out into the world around you.

  • Have a laugh - Want to relieve stress, give your immune system a boost, and top up your serotonin? Have a good laugh.

  • Be grateful - As well as encouraging you to think more positively, gratitude journalling can improve well-being throughout your life, increasing your self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.

  • Go on holiday - Taking a holiday can improve your mental health, and increase your brain plasticity. 

  • Get playful - Improve your work performance, cognitive well-being, and quality of life with regular time to switch off, and just play. 

  • Phone a friend - Having friends around, or at the end of the phone can make scary things less intimidating, and stressful situations easier to manage.

Positive thinking benefits neuroplasticity

Filling your mind with positive thoughts, and the resulting well-being advantages can help your brain to function at its best, and also support neuroplasticity, particularly in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC enables you to: 

  • regulate the signals from your brain to other parts of your body

  • reflect on what you’ve been physically doing

  • control your emotional responses

  • focus on what you choose

  • get insight on your thought processes

Essentially, the PFC gives you the ability to decide what you want to do, and how you want to do it. So, by choosing positive thoughts, you’re contributing to the neuroplasticity and flexibility of the prefrontal cortex, which will mean you’re better equipped to choose positive thoughts. (See what we did there? The force is strong with this one.)

Positive thinking can benefit your health

In this study from the University of Kentucky on a group of law students, those who were more optimistic had stronger immune systems than their more pessimistic counterparts. The positive thinkers were better able to fight off bacteria and viruses.

The advantages of positive thinking can help with more than just fighting off everyday things like the common cold. A circulation study showed that a positive outlook was associated with less plaque build-up in the arteries, and a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease in women. And, in this study on optimism and heart failure, positive thinkers over the age of 50 were less likely to suffer from heart failure.

The biggest advantage of positive thinking? It can help you live longer

In this classic study, nuns with the highest amount of positive emotions lived 10 years longer than those with the lowest amount of positive thoughts. For the data, the study took into account their handwritten autobiographies, and found that positive emotional content in their early-life writings (around age 22), was strongly associated with longevity six decades later. 

And, in this 28-year study, longevity was predicted by how happy people felt in their lives overall.

So positive thinking = longer life. Can’t really ask for a bigger endorsement than that.

>All about positivity? Learn how to build a positive mindset from former monk, Jay Shetty.

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