Wonder Woman has her lasso. Humans have positive thinking. In fact, positive thinking is one of our strongest superpowers. The cool thing about this superpower is that it fosters optimism, and optimism gives us a feeling of hope and confidence in the future.
Positive thinking works best when we acknowledge that difficult events will occur in our lives. We know that everything doesn’t always automatically work out, but we carry on and take action anyway. And when we take action—embracing possibilities and looking for solutions, instead of feeling hopeless and giving up—our lives are not only improved, but some studies suggest that our lives can be extended.
If thinking positively is not your strong suit, no worries. Like resilience, positive thinking is a skill. This is good news. That means anyone can learn how to embrace this mental attitude. Even the pessimist in you!
To begin, it is important that we first recognize where we may be limiting our thoughts so that we can change them. For example, if that little voice inside your head keeps telling you that you can’t do something, flip it and reverse it. Tell yourself that you can, and you will. Because the more we believe that we can do something, the more we will start looking for ways to make it happen.
As you practice these positive skills, you will find that you are able to solve problems that may have seemed impossible before taking on this new mindset. In addition, you will notice that your attitude will improve overtime. In fact, as you learn to monitor your thoughts and attitude, you will gain more control of your behaviors and your life.
Dr. Judith Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues—through their studies of positivity and its effect on mental and physical health—found a strong correlation between positivity and quality and quantity of life (2014). Moskowitz is not alone in her findings. Other studies show similar results. In fact, having a positive outlook on life has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, contribute to better weight control, drop blood sugar, and reduce stress and inflammation, all while boosting the immune system.
Even those dealing with a life-threatening illness such as cancer can improve the quality of their lives through positive feelings. But be careful. This does not mean the opposite is true; that we can cure ourselves with positive thoughts alone or that we somehow caused our illness. This belief can create victim blaming which is not helpful to anyone when they are dealing with difficulties in life such as cancer.
If you are feeling some pressure to be positive when you are experiencing a highly stressful event in your life, I highly encourage you to let the expectation to be positive go. There are times when you simply need to cry, and that is okay. Maintaining a positive attitude 24/7 is unrealistic and can add to the emotional weight you may already be carrying. Feelings of sadness, stress, frustration, anxiety, and fear, for example, are all a normal part of life. Don’t beat yourself up when you are feeling down. Instead, embrace them and move on when you are ready.
There is “a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).