Think happy thoughts and good things will come your way, right? At least, that’s what they say! Is positive thinking really all it’s cracked up to be, though? Let’s take a look at what science has to say about it.
What Does Science Say About Positive Thinking?
“Don’t worry, be happy.” “Turn that frown upside down.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow.” I could do this all day. There are a million and one clichés about positive thinking, after all. The harder things get in the world, the more the “always look on the bride side” clichés roll in.
Sure, it’s better to be happy than sad, think good thoughts than bad. But are there any real benefit to all this positive thinking? Turns out, there are. A few, actually. Let’s take a look. Then, for our realist pals, we’ll finish off with a bit of good news for you, too.
Thinking Positive is Good for Your Heart
Thinking happy thoughts could lead to a healthier heart according to a 2008 study done by the University of Rochester Medical Center. Consider this- negative thinking is often associated with stress. I think we all know by now how excess stress can affect our hearts, right? While the study primarily focused on men (who are already at an increased risk for heart disease), there’s no reason why it couldn’t apply to women as well. So, let those blissful thoughts role in! Your heart will thank you.
Visualizing happy images is good for anxiety
Here’s one I think we could all use right now. A 2016 study found that people with anxiety who visualized happy images throughout the week experienced greater happiness and less overall anxiousness compared to those who visualized a negative outcome. Of the two “happy image” groups, one visualized positive outcomes to their problems and the other just let any joyful image pop into their head.
The neat thing? Both groups experienced equal benefits. So, if you’re having a hard time coming up with a happy image relating to your worries, just let those cute cat pictures flow through your mind.
A positive mood can make you more creative
Sure, some of the greatest paintings and stories have come from some rather dark moods (Edgar Allen Poe, I’m looking at you), but overall, science found that positive thinking leads to greater creativity. This is especially true for those working in your average, everyday “non-artistic” field.
During the study, researchers played different types of music for each group of subjects, to set different moods. Some listened to stressful and depressing tunes, while others to more upbeat songs. Those that listened to upbeat mood-boosting music performed better overall on creative tasks. Fun fact, researchers also believe that watching a funny video on the internet can give you the same basic mood boost. The case for cute cat pictures and videos just keeps getting stronger.
So, thinking happy thoughts is good for your heart, your mind, and even your job. What if it’s just not your thing right now, though? It’s a little unrealistic to pretend that we can all think positive every moment of every day, especially when times are so tumultuous. As we know by now, for every study, there’s another an equally valid one that says the complete opposite. So, this one is for all you realists out there.
Being a realistic has its benefits, too
A brand-new study done by the University of Bath found some great news for realists. Turns out, while positive thinking has its benefits, “realists enjoy a greater sense of long-term well-being than optimists.” To reach this conclusion, researchers spent a span of 18 years looking at how their subjects’ financial expectations related to actual outcomes.
Those who took a “positive thinking” approach and visualized a peachy-keen future of great financial security actually found themselves dealing with lower emotional well-being when the future didn’t quite meet their expectations. On the other hand, those with a realistic outlook were happier overall later on in life, regardless of how things panned out.
Of course, researchers were quick to point out that negative thoughts shouldn’t just replace positive thinking, saying, “Pessimists also fared badly compared to realists, undermining the view that low expectations limit disappointment and present a route to contentment.”
My take-away from all that- if you’re a realist, don’t try to pressure yourself into becoming a happy-go-lucky optimist. On the other hand, if you’re an optimist, don’t let one study pressure you into becoming a realist. However, if you’re a total pessimist, you may want to try to find some ways to at least bring a little more blissful thinking into your life. Thinking negative thoughts all of the time isn’t good for anyone. We don’t need science to tell us that (although if you want some proof, check out this study that says pessimists are at an increased risk for dementia).
Bottom line, while there are many science-backed benefits of positive thinking and optimists do seem to have happier lives overall, being a realist or even letting a few negative thoughts slip through isn’t going to derail your entire existence. Just don’t let those negative thoughts or fears control your life. Find your balance and you’ll find your bliss.