Think Happy Thoughts. Looking on the bright side of life is not always easy. From daily annoyances to critical social issues, there are plenty of things that can drag down our moods. But the power of positive thinking isn't just a saying — it's a reality.
Recalling a happy memory can improve your mood, according to one study. And the mere physical act of turning your mouth upward into a smile can lead to genuine joy and decrease stress, according to another. Other research shows that being optimistic has concrete benefits for your mind and body that can significantly improve your quality of life.
Here are just five ways that putting on a happy face — even when you feel like doing the opposite — can have immediate and long-term positive effects.
According to a Yale University study, optimists live longer than pessimists. Researchers found that when optimists were confronted with a health crisis, they were more likely to recover quickly due to their willingness to adapt and “actively participate” in treatments. And due to an optimist’s lack of “hopelessness,” they are faced with less stress and less depression.
Being optimistic can also lower your chances of contracting life-threatening illness or experiencing a fatal episode. Being moderately positive can lower a person's chances of getting heart disease, according to The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey published in 2010) and is associated with a lower stroke risk, according to 2011 study by the University of Michigan).
The happier you are, the healthier you are, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Professor Sheldon Cohen. He found that happy people are less likely to get more mundane, day-to-day illnesses (like a cold), and even when they do they are less likely to report symptoms. He concluded that positive emotions like optimism and self-esteem may have played a role in people’s resistance to catching colds and flus. These “happy” emotions essentially send signals from the brain to your body’s organs, strengthening immunity.
As naturopathic medical doctor Alan Christianson, author of the forthcoming book "The Adrenal Reset Diet" explains, being positive begets forming — and keeping — healthy habits in your daily life. "Athletes tend to be more positive than those who are less active," he explains, citing a 2012 study. "The same study showed that optimistic people, especially women, are more apt to engage in positive diet, exercise and self care than less optimistic controls."
Yale University researchers confirmed this as well, determining that optimists were more likely to stick to behaviors and routines (such as a good diet, exercise, abstaining from smoking and excessive drinking) that maintained healthful living. Conversely, pessimists felt that they had “no control” over their diet or weight and therefore did not take control of any unhealthful habits.
On a biological level, being active in particular causes your body to release endorphins, which are chemicals that make you feel good — no major athletic ability needed. According to the Mayo Clinic, endorphins have the capacity to relieve depression and anxiety. And, when working out makes you happy, you’re going to continue to do it, creating a cycle of happiness and taking excellent care of yourself.
Essentially, you are what you think — what runs through your head has a direct effect on your emotional health. "Every single thought creates a biochemical reaction," explains transformational happiness expert and motivational speaker Elizabeth Manuel, author of “Finding Happiness: Stress Relief for a Happier Life.” "Multiple thoughts that are negative or pessimistic will generate emotions such as anger, fear, dread, anxiety and depression.They will keep a vicious chemical cocktail coursing through your body. Thinking more optimistically will in contrast produce positive emotions of joy, happiness, contentment, pleasure, cheerfulness, calmness."
These positive emotions, she says, actually trigger "a brilliant life-enhancing cocktail" of neuro chemicals, which include those happiness-producing endorphins. Endorphins, according to researchers, not only make us feel good, but can even make us more tolerant to pain.
When you’re in a happy mood, you end up making others happier too, according to a study from Harvard University and the University of California San Diego. In this way, happiness and emotional health are contagious.
Of course, not every experience in life is positive, but maintaining an optimistic outlook now may just help undo the damage of previous negative experiences, according to two studies performed by researchers at the University of Michigan. "One reason positive emotions are worth pursuing is that they can help regulate negative emotions," the authors of the studies explain. In fact, the studies found that being optimistic can undo "anxiety-induced cardiovascular reactivity," an after-effect of feeling negative emotions. Not bad, right?
This article originally appeared on DailyWorth.