The Power of Positivity

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Sunflower smiles

Ok, my friends, I am validated! Science has proven that we, the eternal optimists can rejoice! New research suggests that positivity (yup, still hoping to get into that dictionary) may improve your overall health. It’s time to embrace the bright side and boost your mindful, physical well-being.

It will come as no surprise to you, that feeling good, is actually good for you. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to find out just how good. They funded several universities, including the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) to investigate the effects of positive emotions on the body. Last summer, in August, 2015, the NIH published their findings. They revealed that maintaining an upbeat mental state can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, help maintain healthy weights, prevent diabetes, and extend your life.
So, while happiness and mindfulness sound like the perfect prescription for common health concerns, it’s tough to advocate, especially for the glass-half-empty kind of people.

OK, OK, stop rolling your eyes, send off the doom and gloom mindset. Look on the bright side: Taking on simple positive practices can help boost anyone’s outlook. Want to know how? Read on my friends!NIH-funded scientists are working to understand the links between attitude and your body. They’re finding some evidence that emotional wellness can be improved by developing certain skills. Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist and expert on emotional wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill states that having a sunny outlook on life doesn’t mean you can’t feel sad. Negative emotions are a part of life, and it’s all about finding a balance between the positive and the negative. “Positive emotions expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas, so we can grow…,” Fredrickson explains, “But people need negative emotions to move through difficult situations… Negative emotions can get us into trouble, if they’re based on too much rumination about the past or excessive worry about the future…”

NIH-funded scientists are working to understand the links between attitude and your body. They’re finding some evidence that emotional wellness can be improved by developing certain skills. Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychologist and expert on emotional wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill states that having a sunny outlook on life doesn’t mean you can’t feel sad. Negative emotions are a part of life, and it’s all about finding a balance between the positive and the negative. “Positive emotions expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas, so we can grow…,” Fredrickson explains, “But people need negative emotions to move through difficult situations… Negative emotions can get us into trouble, if they’re based on too much rumination about the past or excessive worry about the future…”

People who are emotionally well have fewer negative emotions and are able to bounce back from difficulties faster. This is called resilience. Developing a sense of meaning in life—and focusing on what’s important to you is a big contributor to your emotional well-being. Adopting simple positive practices can boost anyone’s outlook. Here are a few suggestions.

Coffee talk
Learn to savor and sustain the positive effects of the good stuff in your life. Being unable or unwilling to draw on positive emotions, researchers found, can cause depression. They conducted a study, and asked about 100 people to play guessing games that sometimes rewarded the participants with money. Wins were intended to elicit positive bursts of emotion while not winning was meant to bring out negative feelings. Using an MRI machine, which measures brain activity through changes in blood flow, the researchers ascertained that people who had more activation in the ventral striatum ( I know, scientific, big words, it’s the brain’s reward center) felt better longer following a positive event. The good news, you don’t always have to have a cash payout to trigger happiness. You can learn to activate this reward center on your by practicing a specific type of meditation called loving-kindness meditation. This type of meditation is designed to help cultivate love and appreciation for everyone in your life, even the people who don’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy. I guess my road rage can be tamed after all. It’s all about a mantra wishing love, safety and well-being on yourself and all around you. I know, sounds corny, but worth a shot. I suggest 10 minutes a day for a month. You can do it anywhere, anytime. I practice with my morning coffee, of course.

Alrighty, then, time to talk about positive self-affirmation. I know, everybody’s blogging about this, but it’s crucial to a positive, healthy life. If you really want to make a change in your life, think about what really matters most to you. Sometimes, doing the stuff that is good for you can feel like a right pain in the arse. If you’ve had trouble sticking to a new positive habit, the best way to move ahead might be to connect those new habits to the things that matter to you the most. Self-affirmation can help break down the barriers you have constructed in your mind. A research team from University of Pennsylvania found that when inactive people were asked to think about what is important to them, such as family, before being told how to change their health habits, experienced more activity in a section of the brain that is associated with the sense of self. These people increased their levels of activity more than the control group. So just what does this mean to you and me? Scientists say that gratitude journaling, taking a few minutes each day to write down small things you are thankful for, may help us stay focused and committed to the changes we want to make. We are thinking about how our decisions affect the people and things that matter the most in life.

Reshape yourself
OK, this next one you’ve heard from me time and time again. Change your attitude, change your life. Researchers at University College London analyzed studies examining the relationship between outlook and mortality all the way back to 1969. Half of the studies were conducted on healthy people, half were conducted on people battling various diseases. They found that in both groups, being optimistic and generally happy had “a favorable effect on survival.” The researchers went on to postulate that “happiness is quite strongly linked to good social relationships, and maybe it is things like that that are accounting for the link between happiness and health.” Conversely, the same team found that anger and hostility were associated with coronary issues. They suggest anger management to treat or even prevent heart disease.

Alright folks, if you want to inject more positivity in your own life, start noticing the times when you find yourself thinking negative thoughts. Write down your feelings and try to make a case why that thought those evil, horrid thoughts was legit. Over time, you’ll find that a lot of negative impulses don’t have a lot of evidence backing them up, so you can just let them go. Cut the rope. It’s good for you.

Next, you need to be proactive. Connect with others. Positive people who have social roles, such as being a spouse, parent, friend, team player, or a volunteer, appear to be “protected” from developing disease. Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., Director of Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease at Carnegie Mellon University, credits this “social protection” to a variety of factors, including support from friends and family to take better care of yourself. But he also says another element may be that people who have more social connections are just happier. “They have higher levels of self-esteem, they have greater optimism, and they have stronger feelings of control over their environment.”

Dreamcatcher to positivity
The message here? Expand your social circle and work on deepening your current relationships. If you’re not the outgoing type, push yourself to get involved with a volunteer group working with something that matters to you. Even joining a book club will help you get to know more people, and develop stronger social bonds.
Being open to positive change is key to emotional wellness. “Sometimes people think that emotions just happen, kind of like the weather,” Dr. Fredrickson says, “But research suggests that we can have some control over which emotions we experience.” So my dear readers, as the research suggests, having a positive mindset can help improve your physical health as well. Like I always say, positivity, mindfulness, and don’t forget the coffee!

Stay motivated and caffeinated! 😉☕️

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