“Think positive,” they say. “It’s good for you,” they say.
If I meet someone named “They”, I think I might run away screaming. However, the “they” that says to think positive is probably okay.
Research about the connection between how a positive outlook affects health is a bit sketchy, but there are a couple of reasons this makes sense.
First, positive people might be better protected from damage caused by stress. More positive thoughts equate to less stress, which in turn means your body isn’t experiencing the damaging effects of stress.
Second, if you’re a positive thinker, you might be more inclined to make better, healthier decisions about food, exercise…life. For example, if offered illicit drugs, perhaps the person with a cheery disposition realizes their life is just fine without being altered and declines the potential addiction. This might be an oversimplification, but you get the idea, right? There is a correlation between positive thinking and better health. The mechanism just isn’t understood.
In addition to these murky links, there is evidence that negative thoughts weaken your immune system. Does it now make sense that every chemo nurse seems to radiate sunshine and lollipops? It’s good for their patients, and nurses like to do things that are good for their patients.
If you aren’t the most chipper person in the world, there’s still good news. Although disposition seems to be set early in life, you can improve your mood and positive thinking by doing things as simple as smiling and waving more.
A University of Kansas study found that smiling—even fake smiling—reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. So try a few minutes of YouTube humor therapy when you’re stomping your feet waiting in line or fuming over a work or family situation. It’s difficult not to smile while watching a favorite funny video.Johns Hopkins Medicine
Another way to improve your mood and disposition is what every early childhood teacher knows by heart: practice reframing. (This is what we try to teach little kids so they don’t get extremely frustrated about being 30″ tall in an adult world! We can only redirect them for so long.) Instead of fuming about the curdled milk that went bad three days before its expiration date, be thankful that you can afford to get more and that you have a friend who can check that your refrigerator is functioning properly. Basically, think about a negative situation and find a silver-lining.
When a girl I grew up with was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 20s, she did a truly remarkable thing: she celebrated that she wouldn’t live long enough to have to repay all of her student loans! Morbid? I thought so, but it worked to reduce some of her stress, and her levity gave her parents some good memories in the last year of her life, which was about three months longer than they all anticipated.
One final tip for improving your mood and disposition is by working to be more resilient. Resilient is just fancy psych speech for being adaptable to changing or stressful situations. You can do this by:
- not avoiding problems (Ostriches have really poor dispositions, right!)
- doing things to maintain the good relationships you have (Send a card, write a note, call your mother)
- accepting that things change (“I’ve always done it this way” is not the best way to view things, especially in a pandemic that has made us do so many things differently.)
And just like that, your disposition is more positive, you see unicorns and rainbows, and all is right with the world…Maybe not! It’s something to work on a little at a time, and just like so many things, practice is required to build the skills.