You have probably heard a thing or two about the benefits of positive thinking. Research suggests that positive thinkers have better stress coping skills, stronger immunity, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.1
While it is not a health panacea, taking an optimistic view rather than ruminating on negative thoughts can benefit your overall mental well-being. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to learn how to think more positively.
Benefits of Thinking Positively
Being a positive thinker can have a number of important health benefits. In one study, researchers found that people who had a more optimistic outlook had a lower risk of dying of a number of serious illnesses including:2
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Respiratory diseases
Studies have also shown that optimists tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than their more pessimistic counterparts. For example, research has shown that thinking more positively is associated with improved immunity,3 increased resilience to stress,4 and lower rates of depression.5
How to Think More Positively
So what can you do to become a more positive thinker? A few common strategies involve learning how to identify negative thoughts and replacing these thoughts with more positive ones. While it might take some time, eventually you may find that thinking positively starts to come more naturally.
Avoid Negative Self-Talk
Self-talk involves the things you mentally tell yourself. Think of this as the inner voice inside your mind that analyzes how you perform and interact with the world around you. If your self-talk centers on negative thoughts, your self-esteem can suffer.
So what can you do to combat these negative self-talk patterns? One way to break the pattern is to start noticing when you have these thoughts and then actively work to change them.
When you start thinking critical thoughts about yourself, take a moment to pause and assess.
Paying attention to your self-talk is a great place to start when trying to think more positively. If you notice that you tend to engage in negative self-talk, you can start looking for ways to change your thought patterns and reframe your interpretations of your own behaviors.
It can be tough to stay optimistic when there is little humor or lightheartedness in your life. Even when you are facing challenges, it is important to remain open to laughter and fun.
Sometimes, simply recognizing the potential humor in a situation can lessen your stress and brighten your outlook. Seeking out sources of humor such as watching a funny sitcom or reading jokes online can help you think more positive thoughts.
Learning to think positively is like strengthening a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it will become. Researchers believe that your explanatory style, or how you explain events, is linked to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.6
Optimists tend to have a positive explanatory style. If you attribute good things that happen to your skill and effort, then you are probably an optimist.
Pessimists, on the other hand, usually have a negative attributional style. If you credit these good events to outside forces, then you likely have a more pessimistic way of thinking.
The same principles hold true for how you explain negative events. Optimists tend to view bad or unfortunate events as isolated incidents that are outside of their control while pessimists see such things as more common and often blame themselves.
By taking a moment to analyze the event and ensure that you are giving yourself the credit you are due for the good things and not blaming yourself for things outside of your control, you can start to become more optimistic.
Consider keeping a gratitude journal where you can regularly write about the things in life that you are grateful for. Research has found that writing down grateful thoughts can improve both your sense of optimism as well as your overall well-being.7
When you find yourself dwelling on more negative thoughts or feelings, spend a few minutes writing down a few things in life that bring you joy. This simple activity can help shift your focus to a more optimistic mindset.
There is no on-off switch for positive thinking. Even if you are a natural-born optimist, thinking positively when faced with challenging situations can be difficult. Like any goal, the key is to stick with it for the long term. Even if you find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, you can look for ways to minimize negative self-talk and cultivate a more optimistic outlook.
Finally, do not be afraid to enlist the help of friends and family.
When you start engaging in negative thinking, call a friend or family member whom you can count on to offer positive encouragement and feedback.
Remember that to think positively, you need to nurture yourself. Investing energy in things you enjoy and surrounding yourself with optimistic people are just two ways that you can encourage positive thinking in your life.
When to Seek Help
If you are finding it difficult to think positively and instead feel like negative thoughts or emotions are taking over your life, you should talk to your doctor or therapist. Negative emotions that are causing distress or interfering with your ability to function normally may be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
A doctor or mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms and recommend treatments that can help. Psychotherapy and medications may be used to address symptoms and improve your ability to think more positively.
A Word From Verywell
Learning how to think positively is not a quick fix, and it is something that may take some time to master. Analyzing your own thinking habits and finding new ways to incorporate a more positive outlook into your life can be a great start toward adopting a more positive thinking approach.