7 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Positive Thinking Effects

Loyd Mears

In 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale detailed positive thinking effects in his best-selling book titled, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” His book has many stories about how positive thinking helped a situation.

He also gave guidance to follow like replacing a negative thought with a positive one and thinking of yourself succeeding.

Many scholars and health experts of the time criticized his ideas because they were based on anecdotes and not evidence. This article about positive thinking effects is based on research findings and demonstrated methods.

Positive thinking effects include:

  • Longer lifespan
  • Less depression
  • Lower distress levels
  • Resistance to the common cold
  • Enhanced psychological and physical well-being
  • Improved cardiovascular health and lower risk of death from heart disease
  • Better skills to handle challenges and stress

What is Positive Thinking?

Positive thinking and being optimistic is focusing on the good in every situation. It impacts your physical and mental health. 

Being positive or optimistic doesn’t suggest you disregard reality or make light of hardships. Let me give you an awesome example.

Someone cuts you off in traffic and appears to be in a hurry. You could look at the person and get angry because you think they are insensitive. Or you could frame the situation positively. 

You might imagine the person has a good reason for behaving that way. Maybe the person has a personal crisis that is causing them to be in a hurry.

The difference here is in how you frame the experience and how that makes you feel. Since the other person’s action is out of your control, why not make yourself feel better instead of feeling bad?  

Does Positive Thinking Work?

Positive thinking works for many things. You can make yourself feel happier and reduce stress with positive thinking. You can live longer, catch cold less often, improve your cardiovascular health, and better cope with difficult times.

Negative thoughts tend to limit your thinking scope because you’re focusing on something that’s bothering you. When you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you free your mind to expand ideas. Positive thinking enables you to solve problems better because it removes the restrictions of negative thought patterns. Here’s an example.

Research by Barbara L. Fredrickson confirms that positive thoughts broaden your thinking. In one experiment, Fredrickson gave some subjects negative stimuli that caused negative feelings and gave other subjects positive stimuli. The recipients of negative triggers couldn’t think of as many responses as those given positive stimuli.

Can Positive Thinking Change Your Life?

Positive thinking reduces stress and enhances your health. Stress is related to many health problems, so you may improve your health with a positive mindset.

Studies show that optimism and pessimism can impact your health and well-being. The positive thinking that accompanies optimism is a critical part of managing stress. Effective stress management coincides with many health benefits. 

If you tend to be negative, don’t be dismayed — you can learn to think more positively.

Here are the scientifically proven health benefits of positive thinking.

  • Longer life span
  • Less depression
  • Lower distress
  • More resistance to the common cold
  • Improved psychological and physical well-being
  • Superior cardiovascular health and less risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during difficult and stressful times 

Related: 10 Strategies to be more optimistic.

3 Scientific Studies that Prove Positive Thinking Works

Three studies in peer-reviewed publications proved that positive thinking is good for your immune system, lessens anxiety, and boosts positive emotions like joy. 

positive thinking effects research

Positive thinking is especially helpful when you experience difficult times in life. When your life seems totally out of control, this habit of optimism can start a chain of events over which you have complete control. 

For example, optimistic thinking activates positive emotions such as happiness, interest, pleasure, pride, and love. If you think positively in challenging situations, you are more likely to build useful resources, grow healthy coping skills, and develop resilience.

Study 1: A positive attitude can improve your immune system. (Segerstrom & Miller, 2004).

A meta-analysis of over 300 studies made up of 30 years of inquiry into the connection between the immune system and stress revealed that stressful events could alter immune system functioning. The kind of stress and duration determine what sort of change occurs. 

The type of stressful events they looked at include public speaking, taking an exam, and more long-term circumstances like unemployment or taking care of a sick family member.

These findings indicate that your attitude toward a stressor can affect your immune response. A negative attitude amplifies the effect, and a positive attitude lessens it.

Study 2: Positive thinking reduces anxiety (Eagleson et al., 2016).

Visualizations and positive self-talk reduce negative thinking and intrusive thoughts.

Researchers found that three groups using different kinds of positive thinking to replace worries reported less worry and anxiety. 

The findings indicate that any kind of positive thinking is better than allowing negative thoughts to run wild. The findings are significant because strong, negative feelings can last hours or even days. 

Since the subconscious mind can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined, visualizing positive possibilities can decrease your worry and boost your happiness.

Study 3: Positive people are more satisfied and less likely to employ unhealthy behaviors (Lyubomirsky & King, 2005).

This paper reviewed studies of over 275,000 people to find whether happiness causes success or vice versa. 

In one study, happy people reported fewer missed workdays due to sickness and hospitalization. 

Other studies found that happy people are less likely to have unhealthy habits like smoking, unhealthy eating, and substance abuse. 

More studies show that optimism was linked to reduced heart disease incidence, a higher quality of life, and better physical recovery following cardiac surgery.

This research indicates that positive emotions enable people to build personal, social, physical, and intellectual capital over time. Positive thinking enables you to create positive emotions such as happiness, joy, resilience, and contentment. 

How to Recognize Negative Thinking

Negative thinking isn’t always obvious. Look at this list of characteristics that identify a negative thinking bias.

All or Nothing Thinking and Over-generalizing: Seeing things as a dichotomy like good or bad and right or wrong, and characterizing things as always or never. If you find yourself saying something like, “I always get it wrong” or “I never win,” you think negatively.

Negative Bias Focus:  It’s seeing a single negative detail and focusing only on that without considering good things that might have happened. For example, you only remember one minor criticism and in a conversation and ignore the five good things they said

Discounting Positive Things: Realizing something good in your life and then minimizing it as not important. You can spot this by noticing that you say, “That doesn’t count'” or “anyone can do it.”

Jumping to Negative Conclusions: Uncover negative tendencies like frequently interpreting events negatively without facts to support your interpretations. For instance, you see two coworkers talking privately and think they are saying bad things about you. 

Mind Reading:  Negatively interpreting what others may be thinking. You may think, “Everyone there thought I was a moron.”

Fortune Telling: A habit of expecting that things will turn out badly and then not trying. You tell yourself, “I’m never going to learn this, so I won’t even try.”

Magnifying: Overstating the significance of things like blunders or someone else’s accomplishment. You think, “I’ll never live this mistake down.”

Minimization:  Undervaluing the significance of positive events or your good qualities. You may say, “He seems to like me, but that’s because there is no one else available.”

Perfectionism and Unrealistic Expectations: When you don’t manage to do things exactly right, you’re critical of yourself. You are critical of others if they aren’t always perfect as well.

Self-Blame: You blame yourself for some negative events for which you were not accountable. You say, “I’m just rotten luck for anyone who comes near me.” 

Self-Putdowns: Attaching an unfavorable label to yourself. You say things like, “I’m bad.” “I don’t deserve better.” “I’m stupid, unreliable, or weak.”

Related: Getting Rid of Negative Thoughts

Related: Exercises to Stop Negative Thinking

Can a positive attitude overcome illness?

No one comprehends how or why a positive attitude helps people recuperate faster from surgery or fare better with serious diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and AIDS. 

positive thinking effects illness

But mounting proof indicates that these results may have something to do with the mind’s effect on the immune system.

Having a positive mindset can improve results for those living with chronic illness, a research assessment has found. Experimenters at Curtin University have examined the power of positive and negative thoughts on people who have cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers analyzed over 270 studies and discovered strong negative emotions led to avoidance or refusal, which can interfere with treatment and recovery.

According to the study, patients with a negative attitude towards the illness were more likely to suffer depression or anxiety and are less likely to get better.

How can I stay positive and happy every day?

You can learn how to shift negative thinking into positive thinking. The method is straightforward, but it takes time and practice because you’re building a new habit. Here are some ways to think positively and be optimistic:

Related: How to Change Your Thinking Habits

Identify areas to change. If you want to be more optimistic and think more positively, pinpoint the life areas you usually think negatively about. Whether it’s your career, daily commute, or something else, start small by focusing on one area. Then practice approaching it more positively.

Assess yourself. Regularly during the day, stop, and assess what you’re thinking. If your thoughts are mainly negative, find a way to put a positive spin on them.

Look for more humor. Give yourself license to smile and laugh, particularly during difficult times. Look for the humor in everyday experiences. When you laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

Keep a healthy lifestyle. Plan to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days. You can do it all at once or break it into 10-minute chunks. Exercise can make you feel better and reduce stress. Observe a healthy diet to power your mind and body. And learn stress-management techniques.

Surround yourself with positive people. Ensure those in your life are optimistic, supporting people you can rely on to give helpful guidance and feedback. Pessimistic people may raise your stress level and make you question your ability to handle stress in healthy ways.

Practice positive self-talk. Begin with one rule: Don’t talk to yourself in a way that you wouldn’t talk to others. Be kind and understanding with yourself. When you think negatively, assess it rationally and react with positive affirmations about yourself. Think about something you’re grateful for in your life. Some people find that keeping a gratitude journal helps them stay optimistic.

Related: Keep a Perfect Journal

What are the most positive words?

The most positive words based on a happiness scale are variations in laughter, happiness, love, excellence, and joy. 

More powerful positive words include, “I can, I will, expect the best, commit, I know, I will make the time, positively, I am confident, I do believe, and all things are possible.”

Here is a list of positive vocabulary words.

What are some powerful words?

The five most persuasive words in the English language are:

  1. You
  2. Free
  3. Because
  4. Instantly
  5. New

Reference: Most Persuasive Words.

Disadvantages of Positive Thinking

There are real disadvantages to positive thinking. 

First, a positive view can blind you to potential problems that are sure to crop up in your pursuit of a goal. When planning, it’s important to think negatively to prepare for future problems.

Next, according to research findings, a negative view can help you brace for bad news more effectively. Students with more optimistic expectations felt worse than less optimistic students when their exam results were below expectations.

Finally, when friends are looking for support in difficult times, they often find optimism annoying and unhelpful. And research indicates that optimism is an indicator of a decrease in empathy.

The lesson here is that optimism has many benefits, but there are situations where it can be detrimental.

Positive Thinking Example Stories

Here are some excellent stories involving positive thinking.  Most of them are stories where bad things happen, but they result in a series of events that have positive endings. They teach you that there can be a silver lining in a dark cloud.

Related: How Failure Can Lead to Success

Positive Thinking Techniques

I have found that the best technique for positive thinking is to keep a gratitude journal. Start every day by writing down something you’re thankful for and think about it for a minute. Other good techniques are:

  • Surround yourself with upbeat and happy people.
  • Exercise regularly because the exercise creates endorphins that make you feel better.
  • Choose a few positive affirmations that resonate with you. Write them in your gratitude journal and repeat them to yourself throughout the day.
  • Look at yourself in a mirror and praise yourself. Tell yourself how kind, intelligent, deserving, patient, and fortunate you are. Speak to yourself like you would encourage a loved one.

Here’s an article with 15 techniques to help you be positive and optimistic.

Related: 5 Key Principles for a Growth Mindset

Why Positive Thinking is Important

I have two reasons why I believe positive thinking is important.

First is the effect positive and negative thinking have on stress. Optimism reduces stress, and pessimism magnifies the effects of stress. The stress suppresses your immune system causing you to be more susceptible to sickness and disease.

The second is because you need a positive outlook to achieve challenging goals. Believing you can achieve something and overcome obstacles allows you to be persistent and succeed in the end.

The Final Word on Positive Thinking Effects

Positive thinking has favorable effects in most situations. Be cautious when encouraging a friend who is experiencing difficult times because optimism can make you seem less empathetic.

Also, be careful in planning because optimism may cause you to be unprepared for future problems.

I wish you great success and happiness!



Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601–630.  https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601

Fredrickson, B. (2004). The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society Of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367-1377. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2004.1512

Sweeny, K., & Shepperd, J. A. (2010). The costs of optimism and the benefits of pessimism. Emotion, 10, 750-753.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019016

Devlin, H. C., Zaki, J., Ong, D. C., & Gruber, J. (2014). Not as good as you think? Trait positive emotion is associated with increased self-reported empathy but decreased empathic performance. PLOS ONE, 9, e110470.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110470

Claire Eagleson, Sarra Hayes, Andrew Mathews, Gemma Perman, Colette R. Hirsch,
The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 78, 2016, Pages 13-18, ISSN 0005-7967, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–855. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803