You produce about 50,000 thoughts a day according to the National Science Foundation.
Of those 50,000, 70-80% of them are negative thoughts. That’s around 40,000 negative thoughts a day or 14,600,000 a year.
We are constantly simmering in a brew of negativity.
Now maybe you are someone with a naturally sunny disposition. Let’s say you are 50% more positive than the average person. That’s still 20,000 negative thoughts a day — far more than you want or need.
There’s a reason we have so many negative thoughts. Research has proven that negative thoughts and emotions program your brain to take a specific action. These thoughts and emotions focus your mind and block out other thoughts so you can take the action.
Let’s say you encounter a lion ready to pounce and enjoy you for dinner. Your fear (the negative emotion) motivates you to high-tail it out of the forest. This instinctual reaction is a real bonus when you encounter a truly dangerous situation, but unfortunately our brains haven’t caught up with modern life where actual near death experiences aren’t quite so commonplace.
However, our minds are still programmed to latch on to negative thoughts, shutting down all other options and actions so we can focus on saving ourselves. As we are looping in these thoughts, we don’t recognize that everything is really OK — we are not facing imminent danger.
For example when you have a stressful day at work, your emotions and worries consume you to the point you can’t relax and enjoy your family once you get home. If you and your spouse have an argument, you might replay the fight over and over in your head and find it impossible to focus on anything else.
Just as it did in the scenario with the lion, your brain shuts out any other distractions and thoughts to help you “survive” the threat you are facing. It doesn’t distinguish between the jaws of a wild beast and the jaws of fear that you might lose your job or end your marriage.
The illusion is that negative thoughts will keep you alive. That may be true in some very unlikely situations, but in your everyday life, negative thinking is doing you more harm than good. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that intentional positive thinking is the mindset that will actually add years to your life.
Here are 9 reasons a positive attitude can keep you alive:
1. Positive thoughts open your mind to more possibilities.
If negative thinking shuts down your options, a positive attitude does the exact opposite. It broadens your perspective, allowing you to see more possibilities, choices, and options.
How could this save your life? Certainly if you were in a survival situation, a positive mental attitude allows you to think clearly and make the best decisions to help you remain safe. In any negative situation that occurs in life, a positive attitude helps you cope better and allows you to see the way forward more clearly.
Even in daily life, the ability to recognize possibilities and have a broader awareness can prevent you from making bad choices. It also can create opportunities that inspire, motivate, and ensure you are more successful in all of your endeavors.
2. Positive thoughts allow you to develop resources and build new skills.
Negative emotions shut down our ability to be resourceful and learn skills. These are future-oriented behaviors that require us to see the benefits down the road.
A negative attitude keeps us tethered to the thoughts and emotions we are cogitating. A positive attitude inspires us to find solutions and learn new and useful skills — skills that can help us improve our careers, our health, our relationships, and our general well-being. Satisfaction in all of these areas is directly connected to longevity.
3. Optimism helps you cope better with stress.
An optimistic outlook has been proven to help you reduce feelings of stress in your day to day life. When you look on the bright side of things, you are better able to shrug off the negative emotions, worries, and anxieties that are simply a part of life.
Office conflicts, traffic, money problems, and relationship issues don’t drag you down for long. You are able to make the decision to let it go and move on.
Reduced emotional stress leads to fewer of the physical symptoms of stress — which in turn makes you healthier and extends your life.
4. Positive thinking boosts your immunity.
Suzanne C. Segerstrom, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Kentucky, found in her research on optimism of a group of law students “that the immune response became more powerful in individual students as they became more optimistic over time, and lessened as they became more pessimistic.”
Immunity dropped in students whose feelings were growing more pessimistic during the study period. To fend off illness, you need to fend off negativity. By developing a positive attitude, you’re giving yourself a booster shot of protection against infection and disease.
5. Positive thinking reduces your risk of depression.
Hopelessness and helplessness are key features of depression. Although pessimistic thoughts don’t cause depression, it appears you can become more easily depressed when you have a pattern of negative thinking. People who are depressed have a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, substance abuse, and suicide.
Pessimism actually feeds cognitive distortions and negative self-talk. However, optimism appears to create some protection from depression.
Optimism prevents you from reaching the negative, defeating conclusions you might have about yourself and your life. In fact, many psychologists work with patients on how to learn to be more positive, as a way of fighting depression.
When negativity is challenged, it allows you to reflect on the validity of the thoughts you might be looping. By replacing these thoughts with optimistic, realistic thinking, you’re more able to take more positive, goal-oriented actions. This progress also helps protect against depression.
6. A positive attitude reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, positivity and optimism were linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, with the most optimistic people having the greatest benefits.
Positive thinkers are less likely to have risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
7. An optimistic outlook leads making healthier lifestyle choices.
In the same Harvard study, researchers found that optimistic and happy people have healthier lifestyles, including exercising more, eating better, and getting better sleep.
When you are more optimistic, not only do you see the value of healthy choices more clearly, but also you are more motivated and energized to take action on this knowledge.
8. A positive sense of humor can prevent serious illness.
It’s nearly impossible to have a sense of humor when you have a negative frame of mind. A positive attitude invites laughter and fun.
But a positive sense of humor provides more than just fun. Humor improves immune cell function, helps you ward off illness like colds and flu, and decreases your chances of cancer.
9. Positive people tend to have more friends and better relationships.
A positive attitude is attractive and contagious — people want to be around someone who is positive and upbeat. When you’re optimistic, you aren’t so self-focused and distracted by your worries. You’re able to show empathy and interest in others.
Positive people attract other positive people, and these connections only strengthen your state of mind and foster more creative energy and fun. In your love relationship, a positive attitude allows you to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship and to deal with conflict and problems more effectively when they do arise. It strengthens the bonds between the two of you because you are less entangled in frustrations and disappointments.
So what do relationships have to do with living longer? According to Harvard Medical School, strong social connections “relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.”
If you find yourself in a mental loop of negative thinking, or if you tend to always see the glass as half empty, it is well worth the effort to turn your attitude around. Not only is negative thinking hard-wired in our brains, but we reinforce it by not resisting it.
Become aware of your thought patterns and consciously shift a negative thought into a more positive one. Even if it feels false and difficult at first, you’ll eventually create a positive thinking habit that becomes more natural.
Don’t allow a negative attitude to rob you of your happiness and your health. Make it your mission to transform your state of mind so you can live longer and enjoy every moment of life.