The Utility of Daily Positive Thinking
PUBLISHED: Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Utility of Daily Positive Thinking

Cliché, as it might sound, adopting a positive mindset is a proven way to increase both the quality and quantity of your time on this earth. But there seems to be some confusion over what, exactly, “positive thinking” entails. It doesn’t mean taking on some cartoonishly naïve or happy-go-lucky persona. Instead, positive thinking in a real-world context just means approaching unfortunate circumstances as optimistically as possible and generally trying to navigate your days without expecting that worst-case scenarios will come to pass. The benefits that can flow from such a simple, realistic change in mindset are almost unbelievable.

The Physical Effects of Stress

Negative thinking almost always causes stress, which, in turn, triggers our bodies’ instinctual fight-or-flight response. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, the primary chemical driving that reaction is cortisol, a hormone that causes profound changes in the ways our bodily systems function; these include suppression of the digestive and immune systems, elevated glucose (blood sugar) levels, and quick activation of the fear centers of the brain. Confronted with a real threat, this gives us precisely what we need to survive—increased energy, hyperawareness, etc.

But when stress keeps our cortisol levels at a sustained high the effects are devastating. We sleep and eat less because the systems that regulate those functions are out of whack, but at the same time, we’re burning (and demanding) more glucose than normal in order to elevate senses and prepare muscles for overexertion. In other words, stress and the chemical reaction it triggers force our bodily systems to work much harder—for much longer—with less fuel. Halting that cascading reaction by adopting a more positive mindset has a multitude of health benefits, chief among them improved cardiovascular health and reduced future risk for heart disease. Reducing cortisol levels also allows your body to regulate sleep and digestion more correctly, which equates to a better quality of rest and improved resistance to some illnesses like the common cold.

The Mental Effects of Stress

The cycle of negative thinking and its accompanying stress reaction also, unsurprisingly, have the capacity to affect other changes in our mental state. According to additional information presented by the Mayo Clinic, a prolonged pattern of assuming the worst can lead to depression, anxiety, and memory/concentration problems. These issues, especially anxiety and depression, can start a negative feedback loop with the previously discussed physical problems where they intensify one another to the point that they become debilitating.

According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina, a pattern of negative thinking can also cause inhibit a person’s ability to see and/or capitalize on opportunity while positive thinking can allow an individual’s mind to open up to new avenues to success. This gives some scientific credence to what we have known colloquially for some time—success begets success, and failure leads to more failure. But, where we’ve previously viewed this as some sort of manifestation of a person’s drive or inherent ability, we’re seeing that it might be more of a sort of mental block or boost; people who think assume the worst will happen to find that it often does, while people who handle both success and fortune optimistically often make the most of the opportunities around them.

Final Thoughts

Positive thinking is clearly more than a cliché. It leads to an improved mental state, yes, but also a healthier physical life. Eliminating stress is important to maintaining the proper bodily stasis that leads to restorative sleep, better digestion and eating habits, and improved cognition. Those things, in turn, help promote a more optimistic mindset that drives a feeling of success, which leads to a better mental state, and so and so forth. But it starts by stopping negative thought patterns before they spiral out of control.