Positive Outlooks Can Spark Dramatic Health Improvements

Positive Thinking

A positive outlook not only helps lift your spirits, but it may improve your health and even add years to your life.

Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham learned 27 years ago that she had she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. She endured 15 years of various treatments and eight relapses of her cancer, but also said she set the stage for hope and happiness by keeping a gratitude journal and surrounding herself with people who lifted her spirits. Her cancer has now been in remission for 12 years and she’s written several books for people facing cancer.

Fostering positive emotions helped make my life the best it could be,” she said to the New York Times. “They made the tough times easier, even though they didn’t make any difference in my cancer cells.”

Numerous studies have also confirmed what Harpham experienced firsthand. Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, found that people with new diagnoses of H.I.V. infection who practiced skills to foster positive emotions were more likely to take their medication correctly, less likely to need antidepressants to help them cope with their illness and carried a lower load of the virus.

She developed a set of eight skills to help foster these emotions that can be practiced daily. The goal is to learn at least three of the eight skills and work on one each day.

-Recognize a positive event each day.

-Savor that event and log it in a journal or tell someone about it.

– Start a daily gratitude journal.

– List a personal strength and note how you used it.

– Set an attainable goal and note your progress.

-Report a relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.

– Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily.

– Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.