The Health Benefits of Positivity

Spending time with positive rather than negative people isn’t just more enjoyable — the company you keep also has profound implications for your overall well-being. Positivity and negativity tend to be contagious, which means surrounding yourself with negative friends, family members, and coworkers will worsen your mood and outlook. But even more troubling, the negativity you pick up from others may potentially shorten your lifespan and impact your health in other profound ways.

On the other hand, if your inner circle consists of people who exude positivity, you’re more likely to experience a boost in both your physical and mental health. Research suggests that benefits associated with positivity include increased longevity, protection against chronic stress, increased happiness, more significant meaning of life, and greater connection to others.

What Is Positivity

The definition of positivity is the practice of being or tendency to be optimistic in attitude. People with a positive character are said to accept the world as it is, look for the silver lining when something unfortunate happens, and spread hope to others. 

While more attention may be paid to positivity’s benefits today than in the past, specific populations have long exemplified the power of positive thinking and spending time with uplifting people. For example, in Okinawa, Japan — one of the world’s “Blue Zones,” where the average life expectancy for women is around 90 years, one of the highest in the world — people form a special kind of social network called a moai, a group of several friends who offer social, emotional, and even financial support that typically lasts a lifetime.

Many children join moais from a very young age, sometimes even from the time of birth. Adults in the same moais share a lifelong journey together, often working together to grow crops and split gardening responsibilities, to take care of one another’s families, to offer help when a child gets sick, and to provide emotional support when someone passes away. Because moai members together create an atmosphere of positivity that influences one another’s behaviors, such as by encouraging exercise and a healthy diet, they also positively affect each other’s health.

Author of The Blues Zones and National Geographic writer Dan Buettner says, “People in Blue Zones reach age 100 at rates ten times greater than in the U.S. and spend most of their lives in good health.” Some ways they practice positivity, especially by forming supportive relationships, including having a strong sense of purpose, doing activities that reduce stress regularly, enjoying meals or a glass of wine with friends from a faith-based community, putting family first, and choosing friends with healthy habits.

The Benefits Of Positive Thinking

1. Increases Happiness

What makes us happy? Emerging research suggests people who practice positivity and gratitude together experience multiple benefits, including feeling relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and experiencing more frequent positive emotions.

Positiveness helps us recognize hidden opportunities for more enjoyable states like relaxation, playfulness, and connection. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reason to be happy because happiness leads to desirable outcomes at school and work, fulfilling social relationships, and even good health and long life.

2. Buffers Against Negative Effects of Stress and Anxiety

How you think about yourself, your world, and other people is more critical to your happiness than the objective circumstances of your life. Positivity seems protective against adverse health outcomes because it reduces the effects of chronic stress on your body. Many studies have found that having strong social relationships, especially with positive people, protects against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.

A 2017 New York Times article points out that there is no longer any doubt that what happens in the brain influences what happens in the body. When facing a health crisis, actively cultivating positive emotions can boost the immune system and counter depression. Many studies conducted over the past several decades have found evidence of a link between positivity and improved health markers, including:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk for heart/cardiovascular disease
  • Better weight control and protection against obesity
  • Healthier blood sugar levels
  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression and distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

3. Reduces Risk for Anxiety Disorders

Studies have found that depressed and anxious individuals have a decreased ability to identify positive emotional content. One of the features of mood disorders is pessimistic/negative thinking. People with these disorders generate negative thoughts so automatically that they are unaware that it is happening and that their thoughts can be ignored or altered.

4. Contributes to Greater Meaning of Life

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that people with high levels of positive thinking report feeling that their lives have more meaning following stressful events. The researchers found that those who said they practiced positive cognitions associated stress with higher meaning in life. In comparison, those with low levels of positive thinking associated stressful events with lower meaning.

5. Increases Your Connection to Others

Practicing positive thinking helps us maintain mental clarity, perspective, and a bird’s eye view of the circumstances in our lives, allowing our vision to expand and helping us form more accurate connections. Positive emotions have also increased our sense of oneness with others and the world around us.

Positivity can help us connect to people in our community, at work, and in religious organizations. This is important because studies have found that our connections to other people build meaning and purpose and are a significant factor in what makes life seem like it’s worth living.

6. Reinforces Healthy Habits

Positivity tends to build upon itself, meaning when we experience more positive emotions, it’s easier to construct health-promoting habits that contribute to our ongoing happiness.

Eight Positivity Exercises

So, how do you focus on the positive and shift your attention away from the negative? The positivity exercises below can help you inject more positivity into your own life, as well as the lives of those around you:

  • Identify negative self-talk. Start paying attention to ways you engage in negative self-talk, such as magnifying the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive ones, automatically blaming yourself, always anticipating the worst, and seeing things only as good or bad with no middle ground. Identify areas of your life you usually think negatively about and then focus on one area at a time to approach more positively.
  • Repeat positive affirmations. Find positive words or quotes that you can repeat to yourself daily or put somewhere you see often (such as your computer or refrigerator).
  • Keep a gratitude journal. The practice of gratitude involves focusing on the present moment and appreciating your life as it is today. Try keeping a journal that you write in briefly each morning or night, jotting down things that made you happy and appreciative. This helps you learn to think about abundance and savor pleasurable experiences and is an antidote to negative emotions, including jealousy/envy, regret, hostility, worry, and irritation.
  • Incorporate body positivity practices. Instead of always focusing on your weight or things you wish to change about your body, look for things that your body already does perfectly well, such as allowing you to exercise, go about your day, work, and engage with others. Focus on your behavior rather than the outcome. For example, establish an exercise routine and eat a healthy diet filled with mood-boosting foods because these positively affect your outlook and stress levels, not because they might lead to weight loss.
  • Avoid social comparison. Rather than focusing on what other people have that you don’t, think about things you’re thankful for in your own life. Find things that make you unique and valuable, and consider writing about your strengths in a journal. Treat yourself like a friend by practicing self-compassion, and don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else.
  • Carve time out for fun and relaxation. Make time for calming, stress-relieving activities — or those that make you smile or laugh. Seek out humor in everyday life and permit yourself to take breaks.
  • Be mindful. Practice mindfulness or meditation, which teaches you to focus on the here and now rather than the past or future. This helps think of emotions/thoughts as temporary and less overwhelming since everything constantly evolves and changes.
  • Help others and volunteer.  How can you spread positivity? One way is to focus on benefiting the lives of others, which also has the added benefit of boosting your mood. Helping others gets you out of your head and can make you feel connected, grateful, and proud.

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