There is so much talk about positive thinking. There are movies about it; there are books about it. But what is the scientific evidence? Is it hope or is it all hype?
Let’s take a look at this really important topic today and examine the evidence behind it.
Before we jump into it, it’s important to understand how big the self-help market is. Self-Help is an industry of over 10 billion dollars each year. There are books; there are CDs; there are tapes; you name it and it exists!
As you look into this stuff, it’s also important to understand the placebo effect is incredibly large. That’s why the gold standard for any study is a randomized placebo-controlled trial. The placebo effect can account for as much as 30 percent of the change! Therefore, if you have a study without a placebo or control arm, it may not be a very effective study.
Another important part to realize about self-help and positive thinking is that you can’t just spend your entire life always being positive. People who may have excessive optimism on things could get themselves into trouble because they can underestimate what their abilities are.
And over time, all that does is creates more stress, more anxiety for everybody involved.
Now, let’s get into the data on having a positive outlook with perspective means for your health.
Remember, this is not about being positive all the time. It’s about having a sensible, balanced approach to looking at life.
Longevity and positive thinking is an interesting topic. Everybody wants to know how to live longer. Well, there’s an interesting study that recently came out. They looked at participants over the age of 50 years old. They asked them about what their perception of aging was.
They also measured a blood marker called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a marker for inflammation, commonly linked to things like stress.
They followed the participants and reassessed them at 4 years and 6 years. They looked at what their levels of CRP were and how many were still alive. What they found was that those folks who had a positive outlook on aging had lower CRP levels at four years and six years out. They also lived longer.
Once again, this is not blind optimism. This is having a positive outlook on life with perspective. A more balanced approach.
Let’s look at positive-outlook and heart disease. In a fascinating study, researchers looked at almost 1500 healthy siblings of people who developed early onset of heart disease. They stratified the participants in terms of risk: low, medium, and high.
The results are quite fascinating. The participants who had the most positive outlook on life (balanced optimism), had a thirty-three percent lower risk of developing heart disease.
In the participants with the highest risk of developing heart disease, the results were even more profound. Those with the highest level of positive outlook had a 48 percent lower risk of developing heart disease.
Thus, if you have high-risk factors for heart disease, how you think about yourself, the world, the future, and life in general plays a big role in your heart health.
How is the immune system affected by a positive outlook? Here is another interesting study. The researchers looked at one hundred and twenty-four first-year law students. They studied them five times over six months. At each interval, they asked questions about how optimistic the students felt about law school.
They also injected them with some material that would essentially cause an immune system response so they would get a bump on their skin. So in other words, the stronger the immune system, the quicker it would attack this foreign substance, and the bigger the bump would be. Thus, it was a surrogate for how strong the immune response was.
So what did they find? And remember, they repeated this several times. The participants that were more optimistic about law school had a stronger immune response. Those who are pessimistic about how their outlook in law school saw their immune system was weakened and the bump took a lot longer to occur and wasn’t as large.
This study shows us that how we feel about our outlook on things affects our immune systems. This can also explain why other studies have linked a positive outlook to things like catching a common cold.
One of the most crucial things we have is our memory. We know that as we get older, our memory slowly gets worse. But how does a positive outlook play into this?
In a nine-year longitudinal study of almost a thousand people, researchers looked at this exact question. The study occurred from 1995 to 2014. They brought the participants in for testing in 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2006, and 2013 to 2014.
In each evaluation, the researchers assessed the emotions of participants in the last 30 days. They also gave them validated memory tests.
What the researchers found is consistent with all the other studies we have discussed so far. Those participants with a higher positive outlook on life had less memory declines over nine years. Even more interesting was that the older the participants were, the more significant the results were.
OK, this is all great but how does one apply this to their life. The answer is through following the SELF Principle. Focus on sleeping more (7-9 hours each day), moving more (10K steps a day), loving more (meditate, practice gratitude), and eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
Start very simply a little bit of gratitude every day. What are you thankful for today? What things in your life make you happy?
Add a little bit of meditation in the morning. As little as 3-5 minutes can have a profound impact on the rest of your day.
Make it a point to exercise first thing in the morning. Walk, jog, bike, swim, lift weights, or anything else that gets you moving. Don’t make it complicated, just do it!
Lastly, incorporate a whole-foods, plant-based diet into your life to give your body the nourishment it needs to fight stress and work at its optimal level.