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Woman facing blue sky full of colorful baloons - expressing positive outlook arms stretched wide

Positive Thinking Can Improve Health

Positive Psychology
Woman facing blue sky full of colorful baloons - expressing positive outlook arms stretched wide

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Positive Thinking Can Make You Healthier

A few simple habits to keep you in a positive frame of mind can make you healthier.

Forget people who tell you to be ‘realistic’ about negative events or feelings. Shoo them away. Walk on by and get on with your positive thinking practices.

Medical research is finding that looking on the bright side and finding the good in each day causes your brain to create healthier conditions in your body.

A Positive Outlook Can Improve Health during Illness

No matter how serious the situation, especially regarding health, doctors are finding that positive thinking can help boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and decrease the likelihood of heart disease. In addition, research is showing that a positive outlook can help control weight and be a factor in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

In the New York Times article, “A Positive Outlook May Be Good for Your Health,” researchers relate cases of cancer, HIV and diabetes where health improved with positivity.

Even doctors are applying positive thinking. Internist Wendy Schlessel Harpham of Dallas was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is cancer of the immune system, 27 years ago. She surrounded herself with people who lifted her spirits, kept a daily gratitude journal, watched funny movies and did her best to be helpful to others. Despite several relapses, she continued her positive outlook and practices. The result is that the cancer has now been in remission for 12 years.

Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine in Chicago, studied the effects of positive emotions on people diagnosed with AIDS, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. She found that those with positive emotions lived longer.

Day-by-Day Guide to Creating a Positive Outlook

After observing the positive impact on health issues created by a sunny outlook, Moskowitz developed a training plan to help people feel happy, calm and satisfied, even in the midst of a health crisis. Perhaps a crisis is actually the time a positive outlook is most needed.

But there’s no need to have a health problem to encourage you to train yourself to be positive in small ways every day. It can add up to big advantages in health. Here are some of Moskowitz’s suggestions to improve positive outlook:

  1. Recognize at least one positive event each day – For example, maybe you received a letter or an email from a dear friend you haven’t seen for a long time.
  2. Savor that event – Tell someone about the event or write about it in a journal.
  3. Keep a daily gratitude journal – It’s the traditional wisdom to count your blessings, whether it’s a home, a wonderful family, a job, or small things like a beautiful flower blooming in your yard or pleasant words with the cashier at the grocery store at the end of a long day.
  4. List one of your personal strengths and note how you used it – Perhaps you are good at organizing and helped arrange a holiday party at a nursing home.
  5. Set an attainable goal and note your progress – You promised yourself you’d get more exercise, so plan to walk for 15 minutes, three days a week and just walk, anywhere it’s convenient, around the block, in the mall or with your dog. Then write down in a journal that you did it. If you increase your walk to five days a week, write down that progress.
  6. Practice mindfulness – Give yourself a break from the past and future and just focus on the present for a moment, or five minutes, or longer.
  7. Practice small acts of kindness every day – Offering a smile to a newcomer at work or in the neighborhood is an act of kindness. So is holding a door open for a parent with a child in a stroller. An act of kindness can be accomplished in a few seconds and has a healthy effect on the giver and receiver.

A Sunny Outlook on Aging Can Create Healthier Golden Years

A study of 4,000 people older than 50 done at the Yale School of Public Health found that a positive view of aging can actually make growing older a more satisfying experience. Those with a positive outlook had fewer conditions that contribute to heart disease and they lived longer. And if you’re going to live longer, it seems obvious that a positive outlook on life will make those years not just healthier, but richer in life experiences that can come from having good health.

Those hand-me-down sayings like, “Turn your face toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you,” might be just the kind of thing we need after all, for a more cheerful outlook that makes for a longer and healthier life.


Brody, Jane E., “Positive Thinking May Improve Your Health and Extend Life,” The New York Times, March 27, 2017.

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