According to the latest scientific research, cultivating a positive attitude can increase your resistance to disease and even delay the aging process.
At the University of California, San Francisco, a study of 159 people who'd just been diagnosed with HIV were randomly assigned exercises intended to foster positive emotion. As the New York Times reports:
people with new diagnoses of HIV infection who practiced these skills carried a lower load of the virus, were more likely to take their medication correctly, and were less likely to need antidepressants to help them cope with their illness.
Obviously, if positive thinking can reduce the impact of HIV, it can probably reduce the impact of other, less serious ailments.
Indeed, in a study where 49 patients with Type 2 diabetes were taught positive thinking skills, these patients had "better control of blood sugar, an increase of in physical activity and healthy eating, less use of tobacco, and a lower risk of dying," the Times says.
Similar results were found with patients suffering from advanced breast cancer and patients with dementia.
In addition and in parallel to these health benefits, positive thinking can actually slow the aging process. According to the Times, a study of more than 4,000 people 50 and older found that those who had a positive view of aging "had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of stress-related inflammation associated with heart disease and other illnesses...they also live significantly longer."
With the twin goals of a long and healthy life in mind, here are eight proven techniques for increasing your capacity for positive thinking, culled from my prior columns:
1. Realize that YOU control your attitude.
Attitude does not emerge from what happens to you, but instead from how you decide to interpret what happens to you. Deciding how to interpret the events in your life allows you to control your attitude.
2. Adopt beliefs that frame events in a positive way.
Your beliefs and rules about life and work determine how you interpret events and therefore your attitude. Adopt beliefs that create a positive attitude (like "any day above ground is a good day") rather than a negative one (like "life sucks and then you die").
3. Create a "mental library" of positive thoughts.
Spend at least 15 minutes every morning reading, viewing, or listening to something inspirational. Do this regularly and you'll have those thoughts and feelings ready at hand (or rather, ready to mind) when events don't go exactly the way you'd prefer.
4. Start each day on a positive note.
The first few minutes after you awake are hugely important for your attitude throughout the day. If you start your day with a news report about all the horrible things that happened overnight, you're setting the tone for your entire day.
5. Avoid angry or negative media.
The media is full of hateful people who make money by goading listeners to be paranoid, unhappy, and frightened. The resulting flood of negativity doesn't just destroy your ability to maintain a positive attitude, it actively inserts you into a state of misery.
6. Avoid exposure to pessimists.
Pessimists are energy vampires. They secretly hate and envy people who can remain positive during difficult times. Because their misery craves company, they'll try to drain you dry with their complaints and negative spin.
7. Ignore whiners and complainers.
Most workplaces have their share of people who would rather complain about things than make them better. Misery loves company, which means whiners and complainers are always trying to pull you down to their level. Ignore them or, better yet, laugh (silently) at them.
8. Strengthen your positive vocabulary.
The words that come out of your mouth aren't just a reflection of what's in your brain--they're programming your brain how to think. To achieve a positive attitude, use positive words to describe your experience. Example: "I feel fantastic" rather than "I'm fine."
9. Weaken your negative vocabulary.
If you must describe your negative emotions, use words that weaken the emotion connected to them. For example, say "I'm irritated" rather than "I'm furious," or "I don't care for that" rather than "I hate that."