Not Just for Self-Help Books
By Jennifer Yen Clark, MD
Let’s be honest: when most of us hear the words “positivity” or “positive thinking,” our minds inevitably imagine ourselves standing in front of a mirror, reciting some esteem-building mantra while trying not to feel silly. We often scoff at people who suggest that thinking optimistically will make all our dreams come true. However, there is a reason why endless piles of self-help books and almost all motivational speakers focus on the concept of positivity. We have experienced what it is like to feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, depressed, distressed, or discouraged. We have also all used some form of positive coping to work our way through these challenges, whether it’s conscious or not. Consider this: when you had your last bad day, what did you do? Did you relieve stress through exercise, pull yourself out of a long day by eating great food with friends, or go watch a comedic or feel-good movie to distract yourself from something on your mind? Well, you just utilized the concept of positivity in your own way!
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” —Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Remember when we were all children, and we thought we could do anything in the world? Did we “grow up” and come to our senses, realizing that life is here to prove we are helpless in our destiny? I’m sure we all have memories of the moments when we began to wonder those things, but I’m also betting that there were people around us reminding us that “life isn’t fair” or “you don’t always get what you want.” Now, I’m not saying that if you believe there are unicorns, they will appear, or that if you wish hard enough to win the lottery, you will. But I do believe that our minds are capable of either enabling or deterring success in our lives depending on what we allow ourselves to think.
“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” —Buddha Consider the last time that you faced a challenge that others doubted you could overcome. Did you tell yourself that they were right and that there was no point in trying, or did you decide that you would prove them wrong? I’m betting that either way, you had a talk with yourself internally about what you thought would happen. If you ask anyone who has achieved success in their careers, love life, or passions, they will tell you that they always believed it would happen, and never doubted their own ability to achieve what they wanted. Many of us are raised under the warning that being a dreamer can be dangerous because there are so many things that could happen along the way. But it is those who dare to risk following their heart that often help make the biggest impacts.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” —Albert Einstein The practice and use of positive thinking has been around for a long time, and more recently, scientists and researchers have begun studying the possible benefits and effects on physical and mental health. Some of the key symptoms of people who are depressed or anxious are negativistic thinking and scientists and researchers have begun studying the possible benefits and effects on physical and mental health. Some of the key symptoms of people who are depressed or anxious are negativistic thinking and catastrophizing, or expecting the worst to happen. On the other hand, people who consider themselves happy individuals often report being optimistic in their view of the world and life. A recent study looked at a theory that postulates that daily positive emotions can build into better emotional resources, leading to more successful and happy lives. The results showed that for the participants who practiced a positive meditation technique nightly, they woke up feeling more positive. They had more days over time where they felt more positive and had increases in mindfulness, self-satisfaction, positive relationships with others, and good physical health. There was also some evidence to show that positive thinking decreased symptoms that typically lead to depression and anxiety, and it reduced stress in daily life.
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” —Winston Churchill In the end, positive thinking isn’t going to make your life perfect or problem free, but nothing is going to do that for you. You can choose to be your biggest supporter or your own worst enemy. Consider positive thinking as a simple but powerful weapon against your stressors and challenges, and a tool to change your life into something fulfilling and joyful.