There has been much talk about the power of positive thinking and how it can affect a person’s outlook on life and how they deal with life’s ups and downs. Now a recent study has shown that thinking positively can also make you live longer. The study found that people who look on the bright side of life were more likely to live to 85 or older. A positive outlook and not dwelling on life’s negative aspects and being able to deal with these better, means lower stress levels. High levels of stress can affect the immune system and therefore cause physical as well as mental illness.
The principles of CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy often used in the treatment of many mental health conditions are based on the idea that by addressing how we react and deal with certain situations and viewing these more optimistically, the better we are able to cope with life and overcome certain mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. So it does make sense that positive thinking can make a difference.
Another study undertaken by University College London has shown that the more worthwhile we consider the activities we do or how we spent our time, the healthier we are. The study – the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – looked at 7,000 adults aged over 50 and asked them to rate from 0-10 how worthwhile they considered activities they undertook to be. When compared with the results of other studies on physical health, those who rated what they did highly, showed higher concentrations of vitamin D, healthier levels of cholesterol, faster rates of walking, better quality of sleep and stronger hand grips – an indicator of bone and muscle strength – than those who rated their activities as less satisfying and worthwhile.
These positive indicators of health continued with age. Four years later, the same group was examined again, and those who rated their activities highly were less likely to have developed chronic pain, depression or to feel lonely. They were also shown to be more likely to exercise, have good social relationships and to work or volunteer.
What is not clear is whether those taking part in the study were happier and healthier because undertaking these activities made them feel their lives were worthwhile, or if they undertook the activities because they already felt that their life was good and worthwhile.
Mindfulness can also be a useful technique to achieving positive thinking. Mindfulness is based on the principle of focusing on the present moment, living in the here and now and learning to appreciate the present – looking at all that is positive in life. It can be very effective in treating some mental health conditions and maintaining good mental health.
One thing is certain, thinking positively can’t be bad for you. Everyone’s life has its ups and downs – some more than others. By looking for the positives in life, however small – friends, family, a comfortable home, a good meal, reasonable health, a sunny day, a sweet smelling rose, a singing bird, a smile from someone, the loyal companionship of a pet – whatever it might be, and by focusing on these rather than dwelling on everything which is not perfect in life, it can be easier to deal with the more challenging things which may come our way and make us more mentally resilient and healthier.
Sometimes though, it’s not possible to cope with everything that life throws at us without some help, and depression and anxiety can creep in making life very difficult indeed. When this happens, it may be necessary to seek help from a mental health professional. At Private Psychiatry, we help people with their mental health every day, putting them on the road to recovery and helping them to re-gain control of their lives. If you or someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, please get in touch.