When Norman Vincent Peale wrote his book The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952, he probably had no idea the impact this tome would have on the public consciousness.
The inspirational message within these pages continues to serve as a motivational toll more than 50 years later and has been the subject of much clinical study, with some encouraging results.
Anyone who has a serious physical or behavioral illness knows that maintaining a positive attitude can be challenging. This is especially true for parents whose children have a serious medical condition. “The power of positivity: predictors of relationship satisfaction for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder,”
This study took a look at the level of “optimism, benefit finding, coping strategies, social support and relationship satisfaction” of parents who had children with a diagnosis along the autism spectrum. As might be expected, optimism favorably impacted all these aspects and “highlight[s] the importance of focusing on positive factors that can enhance relationship quality.”
How positive thoughts impact health
Adults who suffer from a chronic disease can testify to the psychological toll a medical condition can exact. Taking a cue from Peale’s book, a team of French researchers decided to investigate whether thinking positively could affect patients with a chronic illness.
Their study, “The relationship between traits optimism and anxiety and health-related quality of life in patients hospitalized for chronic diseases: data from the SATISQOL study,” simultaneously examined the “effect of optimism and trait anxiety” on the health-related quality of life in 1529 patients with several different chronic diseases who had been hospitalized for these illnesses.
The researchers did indeed find that as a person’s optimism increased, anxiety levels decreased, having a positive effect on health-related quality of life.
The impact on emotional health
Another study, this one published in 2016, sought to find out if positive thinking might play a role in emotional health. “The power of positive thinking: pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in generalized anxiety disorder,” evaluated the impact of positive thinking on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Knowing that individuals who have GAD often engage in negative self-talk, the researchers trained subjects to replace their usual way of worrying by picturing or talking more in more positive terms. Results showed that “any form of positive ideation can be used to effectively counter worry.”
In many cases, even in today’s culture, the idea of aging carries negative connotations. But a 2014 study, “Optimism buffers the detrimental effect of negative self-perceptions of ageing on physical and mental health,” found that, once again, a positive attitude does have power over negativism.
This study evaluated three years of data collected from adults between the ages of 40 and 85. The study examined three factors: self- perceptions of health, physical ability and depression.
The researchers found that when subjects harbored negative feelings in these areas it was a good predictor that their health would deteriorate. However, subjects who maintained an upbeat attitude demonstrated “better physical functioning and lower depressive symptoms.”
Positive thinking and health aging
Another study that reinforces the idea that positive thinking can play a key role in healthy aging was conducted in 2015. “Imagining a brighter future: the effect of positive imagery training on mood, prospective mental imagery and emotional bias in older adults”
The study provided cognitive training for 77 older adults over four weeks. They were taught to how to change their way of thinking through positive imagery exercises. While the researchers assert that additional studies are necessary to confirm and determine long-term results, these findings showed that a cognitive training program can successfully enhance an older adult’s positive attitude toward aging.
Regardless of age and physical or emotional condition, it is possible to have a sunnier outlook on life through positive thinking, according to these, and many other, studies.
As Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”