Can You Think Yourself Healthier?

Positive thoughts are linked to good health—and you can learn to cultivate them.

happy woman against sky

Medically reviewed in January 2023

Updated on January 25, 2023

There is always a lot of talk about the power of positive thinking. Is there any basis to it? Research suggests that there is a correlation between positive thinking and good health.

A 2018 study in Social Science & Medicine of 1,979 people found a link between emotional well-being and C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation that’s associated with cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. The researchers concluded that people with positive emotional well-being and overall satisfaction with life had lower CRP levels.

Another study, published in JAMA in 2022, suggested that adults over 50 with a positive attitude about aging and health had a 43 percent lower risk of dying from any health-related cause over a four-year period. People with more positive thinking about aging were also more optimistic in general, more physically active, less lonely, and experienced lower risk for diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease.

There is also a connection between positive thinking, physical outcomes, and death. In a 2022 study in BMC Public Health on the impact of optimism on physical health and survival rates, optimistic older adults were more likely to have a lower risk of mortality than their less-optimistic counterparts.

Cultivate positive thinking
There are some people who look at the glass as half empty and others who see it as half full. How can you become the latter? Here are five ways to start.

  1. Hang out with positive people. Negativity can be contagious and conversely, so can positivity. 
  2. In a stressful situation, try to find the silver lining. As an example, if you get lost driving with your partner, pay attention to where you are and enjoy the different scenery.
  3. Give positive feedback to those around you. There is always something positive you can say even when it might be tough. In the above scenario, you can thank your partner for driving safely.
  4. Give positive feedback to yourself. We are often harder on ourselves than anyone else. Cut yourself some slack.
  5. Keep a gratitude journal. If you can find several things a day to be grateful for, your attitude will change and you will find that you feel better physically.

It is important to your emotional and physical well-being that you find a way to be optimistic. It is all in how you look at things. As the old saying goes, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Article sources open article sources

Ironson G, Banerjee N, Fitch C, Krause N. Positive emotional well-being, health Behaviors, and inflammation measured by C-Reactive protein. Soc Sci Med. 2018;197: 235-243.
Nakamura JS, Hong JH, Smith J, et al. Associations between satisfaction with aging and health and well-being outcomes among older US adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2147797. 
Yue Z, Liang H, et al. Optimism and survival: health behaviors as a mediator—a ten-year follow-up study of Chinese elderly people. BMC Public Health. 2022;22(1):670. 
Tang J, Yu G, Yao X. Emotional Contagion in the Online Depression Community. Healthcare (Basel). 2021;9(12):1609.
Colombo D, Pavani JB, Fernandez-Alvarez J, Garcia-Palacios A, Botella C. Savoring the present: The reciprocal influence between positive emotions and positive emotion regulation in everyday life. PLoS One. 2021;16(5):e0251561.
Green AA, Kinchen EV. The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Stress and Burnout in Nurses. J Holist Nurs. 2021;39(4):356-368. 
Portocarrero FF, Gonzalez K, Ekema‐Agbaw M. A meta‐analytic review of the relationship between dispositional gratitude and well‐being. Pers Individ Dif. 2020;164:1‐14.

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