6 ways positive thinking can boost health and help us cope

Excerpt: The qualities of hope, optimism and positive thinking help people cope with life’s challenges while improving their overall health and longevity. Optimism and hopeful attitudes build resilience to help us deal with setbacks. Studies show optimism and positive thinking also contribute to healthy aging, help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and ease aches and pains. Focusing on and celebrating uplifting events and stories help encourage and maintain a positive outlook.

Author Erik Larson’s new Winston Churchill biography, “The Splendid and the Vile,” may resonate with older Canadians in these times because of the hope, inspiration and positive thinking that the British leader displayed to help get his people through their darkest hour in 1940* and ultimately triumph over adversity.

Research shows these qualities help people cope better with life’s challenges, and can improve their overall health and longevity too,* according to Harvard Medical School. Optimism may even heal the heart itself. Studies of patients who underwent heart procedures found that, over a six-month period, optimists were three times less likely to suffer heart attacks or require repeat surgery.*

Here are some important ways hope, optimism and positive thinking can help us get through adversity, and support our physical health and mental well-being:

  1. Optimism helps people cope with setbacks.
    Optimists use problem-focused coping strategies to figure out positive solutions to setbacks and emotion-based coping strategies to reduce the emotional aftermath of adversity,* according to Rice University. Optimists also pay attention selectively to a setback’s positive aspects.* For example, an optimist may feel thankful that the world temporarily shut down in the spring rather than in January, so they can enjoy walking outdoors in the warm sunshine.

  2. A hopeful attitude boosts resilience.
    To build resilience in tough moments, stay hopeful, visualize, and look forward to better times,* suggests Mayo Clinic. Make each day meaningful by doing something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

  3. Optimism promotes healthy aging.
    A habitual expectation that good things will happen contributes to healthy aging and is linked to longer life, reported a 2019 Harvard School of Public Health study.* Optimistic people are better able to manage their emotions and behaviours, have healthier habits, and bounce back from difficulties more effectively.*

  4. Positive thinking protects health and lowers stress.
    Older adults with a positive, cheerful outlook generally handle stress better, are less lonely, and recover faster from disability,* reports Dalhousie University. To encourage or maintain a positive outlook, spend more time with people who are positive and encouraging, and list things you feel grateful for.*

  5. Savour positive feelings.
    People who regularly experience positive emotions like joy, happiness, excitement, and enthusiasm experience, on average, lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, and fewer aches and pains,* according to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

  6. Invest in the uplifting.
    Focus on positive stories of essential workers like retirement residence staff, grocery store workers, doctors and nurses doing things to make vulnerable people’s lives better,* suggests Psychology Today. Do what you can to lend a hand and show your appreciation. Celebrate happy events like birthdays or a grandchild’s engagement with a video call, song, poem, or a heartfelt message.

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. New York Post. “These words from Winston Churchill are giving hope during the pandemic.” (2020), online: https://nypost.com/2020/04/25/winston-churchills-words-are-giving-hope-during-the-pandemic/

2. Harvard Medical School. “Optimism and your health.” (2008), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health

3. Psychology Today. “When adversity strikes, optimism helps us get through.” (2016), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201610/when-adversity-strikes-optimism-helps-us-get-through

4. Mayo Clinic. “Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship.” (2020), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/in-depth/resilience/art-20046311

5. Harvard School of Public Health. “New evidence that optimists live longer.” (2019), online: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/new-evidence-that-optimists-live-longer/

6. Dalhousie University. “Fountain of Health. Positive thinking.” (2020): https://fountainofhealth.ca/wellbeing/positive-thinking

7. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “Ways of finding happiness in challenging times.” (2020), online: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/covid-19-coronavirus/finding-happiness-in-challenging-times/

8. Psychology Today. “How to stay positive during the pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stronger-fear/202003/how-stay-positive-during-the-pandemic