Dear Debbie Downer: Do This to Save Your Life

There is power in positive thinking.

It’s undeniable that the way we think shapes our outlook on life. After all, we’ve all heard stories about the impact of daily affirmations, gratitude challenges, and peppy self-talk. What may be unexpected is the role it plays in on our physical and mental health.

It feels like just about every company now has a strong focus on employee well-being, and a lot of that has to do with developing research on the importance of an employee’s health and their overall productivity. Developing a positive mindset is just one of those focal points, with researchers finding that sometimes it doesn’t pay to be negative.

Studies have found that a positive outlook on illnesses can not only prevent you from getting sick, but can also decrease the severity of an existing illness. Most interesting was the link between positive thinking and coronary heart disease.

A group of researchers looked at middle aged participants over an 11-year timeline, using their initial positive or negative outlooks to predict heart disease. What they found was that even after controlling for genetically predisposed heart disease, a negative outlook played a significant role in developing fatal heart disease. In fact, twice as many Negative Nancies died from heart disease compared to those with positive, or even neutral, outlooks.

Positive thinking can affect our mental health as well. Aside from the obvious thought, “of course thinking good thoughts makes you feel good!”, studies have recorded noteworthy affects. One study found that positive thinking resulted in lower levels of depression, and that those currently depressed could improve their situation through cognitive-behavioral therapy. Essentially, patients could be taught the skills they needed to naturally improve their mental state.

Stress, in a league all its own, has a direct impact on our physical and mental health, and can be staved off through positive thinking. A recent study took a group of people recently diagnosed with HIV and split them into two groups, where one received support sessions and the other took a positive emotions training course. After more than a year, the latter group reported significantly lower stress, but that’s not all. Positive thinking also helped improve their physical state.

We Need Negativity

While there are benefits to being positive, a world full of only positive people is one you probably wouldn’t want to live in. Certain situations call us to take off our rose-colored glasses in order to be successful.

In David B. Feldman, PhD and Lee Daniel Kravitz’ book Supersurvivors, they address what they call “the paradox of positive thinking.” In times of trouble, be it illness or natural disaster, positive thinking actually prevented subjects from taking action to improve their situation. They were able to live in in a bubble of positivity that, while comforting in the moment, hindered any future improvement.

But here’s the catch—while positivity about a situation wasn’t necessarily helpful, positivity in one’s self was.

Finding a Balance

While we need positivity and negativity, we can’t let either rule over everything in our lives. Take a look at what kind of a person you are, and find a happy medium of positive thought.

If you think you may be a Debbie Downer, there are tools you can use to strengthen your positive thinking muscle. The same researchers who conducted the HIV study also came up with the methods used in the positive emotions training course. The main eight tools are:

  1. Recognize a positive event each day.
  2. Savor that event and write about it in a journal or tell someone about it.
  3. Start a daily gratitude journal.
  4. List a personal strength and note how you used it.
  5. Set an attainable goal and note your progress.
  6. Report a relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.
  7. Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily.
  8. Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.

On the other end, if you find yourself painting too rosy a picture when the situation doesn’t call for it, then think back to Supersurvivors. When you recognize that a situation calls for critical thought, search for facts and force yourself to list five to ten actions that can be taken to tackle the problem you are facing.

What are some positive thinking tips you’ve found to be helpful? Let us know on Facebook!