By Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games

There really is power in positive thinking. Not that just wishing something would happen will make it so, but intentionally looking for the positive in situations, according to research, does have long-term and significant benefits to our health.

An optimist is a person who believes that good things will happen and they look for the best in people. Optimists see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, and they tend to feel more control of their lives. People who think positively tend to be more active, so they naturally engage in more healthy activities such as exercise, sports and socializing. They also tend to eat healthier and consequently have stronger immune systems. But according to research, there are benefits linked to optimism that go beyond lifestyle choices. For example, one study reported by CNN found that positive people were 35% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke. Another study from Boston University School of Medicine found that optimism is linked to longevity. The study suggested that optimism helps regulate emotions and supports resilience and the ability to bounce back from difficulties. Furthermore, a person displaying a positive outlook was 50-70% more likely to reach the age of 85 than those who were the most pessimistic.

For those who tend to have a natural bent towards optimism, this is indeed good news. But, even for those who struggle to see the world in a positive light, it’s important to know that optimism can be taught and practiced.  According to Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, techniques can be learned that will reinforce positive thinking and this thinking can actually change the structure and function of the brain. Lewing Lee, PhD, clinical research psychologist at VA Boston agrees, “...optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.” It’s true that not every situation can be improved by simply being cheerful, and there are times when negative feelings are appropriate - times of grief and genuine sadness. But there are also infinite opportunities about which to feel joyful, thankful, and passionate. It is a choice that every person can make every day. You can train your brain to be better at focusing on the positive by incorporating some relatively simple practices into your daily routine. You can choose to be more optimistic and start to gain the rewards.

Here are a few suggestions to start you on your way:

  1. Begin and end each day by listing 10 things for which you are grateful.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal. List 3 positive things about each day.
  3. Focus on the things you can control. Many times we can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond.
  4. Try to see difficulties as challenges to conquer or as opportunities for learning. 
  5. Create and memorize a list of positive words. Use them as often.
  6. Be aware and take a moment to appreciate simple things that make you feel good. Add those things to your gratitude journal.
  7. Slow Down.
  8. Spend as much time listening to music, stories and sources of inspiration as you do the news.
  9. Be as quick to compliment someone as you are to criticize.
  10. Celebrate things, big and small!

Boston University School of Medicine.“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Posted Aug. 26, 2019.

Lamotte, Sandee. CNN. “5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in 2020” CNN.  Posted Jan. 3, 2020.

Davis, Tchiki, Phd. “Think Positive: 11 Ways to Boost Positive Thinking.” Psychology Today.  Berkeley Well-Being Institute.  Posted Mar. 06, 2018.