“Just be happy” is a statement many of us have heard before, often uttered by those annoyingly cheerful people in our lives that seem to always be celebrating good news. When you’re going through a bad period, being positive can seem like the least sensible thing to do. In fact, a good old grumble might even feel therapeutic.
But what if all this positivity stuff could actually be far better for us? Whilst none of us have the choice to be happy (it’s a chemical balance in our brain that we can’t simply switch on), we do all have the choice to think positively. And positive thinking can lead to happiness.
It can also lead to many other things, making us potentially physically healthier, more attractive and even smarter. Here are just a few reasons why positivity could be worthwhile and why being a cynical sourpuss could be making you worse.
It’s good for your physical health
Negative thoughts lead to worrying and worrying leads to stress. Stress is a survival mechanism that once helped us deal with life-threatening situations back when we cavemen. When stressed a hormone called cortisol is released. This tenses up our muscles for fight or flight, makes our skin more reactive to deal with toxins, numbs our sense of pain and ups our blood pressure to provide a fresh supply of oxygen to our brain.
All this is useful in a life-or-death scenario, but not so useful in an everyday situation. As humans have evolved, we no longer have to fight off predators as often and have wrongly learnt to associate stress with perfectly non-harmful situations.
In small doses stress has no major effect. However with long term exposure, it can wear our body down. The muscles start to ache after being constantly tensed. Our skin becomes more reactive and so is more susceptible to spots and rashes. Our blood pressure is constantly high and so our heart has to work harder (unhealthy build ups of white blood cells due to stress have also been linked to heart attacks). Our mind is also more alert to deal with dangers, making it harder to sleep. This lack of sleep makes it harder for us to heal our bodies and rest our brains, potentially shortening our lifespan.
All this can be avoided by training our body to not get stressed as often. This can only be done through positive thinking. When experiencing stress, try to put some perspective on the situation. Is your life really in danger? If yes, then those stress hormones will be beneficial for you, helping you to engage in fight or flight. If you’re simply stressed over an exam or a party you’ve arranged or a difficult client at work, first realize that you’re not about to die. Secondly, start focusing your energy positively to counteract the stress – it’s only an exam/party/difficult client and you will conquer it!
Positivity has also been linked to improving health in many other ways. Research at the University of California found that HIV sufferers that engaged in positive thinking carried a lower load of the virus, were more likely to take their medication correctly and were less likely to need antidepressants. The Yale School of Public Health meanwhile found that those exercise positive views of aging were more likely to live longer. There have even been studies linking positivity in cancer and diabetes sufferers to a better recovery rate. Quite why this is the case is unclear, but it’s likely positivity is somehow able to boost our immune system and fight off illness and disease more effectively.
The law of attraction
The law of attraction is a philosophy that embraces positivity. It’s more than simply using positivity to be more physically attractive (although less stress will make you age slower and prevent spots and bags under your eyes).
The likes of Louise Hay go into great detail about how the law of attraction has turned their life around. It’s basically the idea that by using positive thoughts you can attract all the things into your life that you’ve ever wanted. This could be anything from attracting the perfect partner to getting your dream home.
There’s a lot more to this than simply wanting. A lot of it involves building up the confidence to take the right risks and approach things with a clear head, which involves methods known as manifestation techniques. The Intention Point for example is one such method that involves connecting your heart and mind for a higher energy vibration. Along with being turned into a film, the law of attraction has been adopted and built upon by many people.
There are many studies that have measured positivity to success showing that philosophies such as the law of attraction are more than simply mumbo jumbo. Psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman held a broad study of insurance salespeople and found that the optimists sold 37% more policies on average than the pessimists. The ‘broaden and build’ study by Fredrickson has meanwhile found that participants in a positive state had more success in the future than their pessimist peers.
If you really want to attract good things into your life, perhaps positivity is the way to go. The likes of the law of attraction can help to provide a structure to your positivity that best allows you to achieve your goals.
How positivity can make you smarter
That’s right, positivity can also make you cleverer. This comes largely down to problem solving. When mistakes happen, positive people are more able to reflect on the mistake and find a constructive solution to making things better. Those with a negative or pessimistic attitude may make a mistake and then give up, or react in irrational way that does not help the problem.
This outlook has been adopted by many successful entrepreneurs. Henry Ford, founder of Ford car manufacturer, famously said: ‘failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to think more intelligently’. When you read into Henry Ford’s early career, you realize just how many mistakes he made and how it was only through positive persistence that he achieved the iconic success that he did. Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, meanwhile is quoted to have said: ‘I have not failed. I have just found 1000 ways that won’t work’. It is rumored that it took Edison the perseverance to try 10,000 combinations before he finally invented the working light bulb.
Researchers at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano have made further studies into the links between positivity and problem solving ability. They studied a group of software developers in order to try and link positivity with creative levels and analytical capabilities. There was no trend between positivity and creativity, however the study did find that happy software developers were far better at problem solving.
This isn’t to say that positivity will boost your IQ, or that indeed more intelligent people are happier. However when it comes to analytical performance, a practical sort of intelligence, it does show that positive vibes help.
How to become a more positive person
All this shows the advantages of being positive over being a misery-guts, but how does one become positive? The likes of the law of attraction can help by focusing your thoughts in the right direction, but you can also feed your positivity through the things that you do.
Studies have found that meditation and journaling can all help to develop a greater sense of optimism. The people you surround yourself with can also have an effect on your mental well-being. If you’re surrounded by toxic people that keep dismissing your dreams and desires, you’re obviously more likely to think negatively. Similarly spending a lot of time alone can make you more self-critical, which may lead to more negative thoughts. The best way to improve your positivity is to hang around people that encourage positive vibes, ideally friends and close relations.
Not all negative thoughts can be eliminated and this is important to consider too. Positivity is more about how you act upon these negative thoughts. If you give up or start taking out your frustration on other people, you’re reacting to the negative thought in a negative manner. By looking for a solution to make things better, you’re thinking positively. Make negative thoughts the foundation of your positive actions.