In his famous book first published in the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale shows us that “The Power of Positive Thinking” leads to a productive and happier life. He teaches us how to overcome obstacles and to replace negative thoughts with positive solutions. Even he could not have anticipated the full power of the idea. Sixty years later, we now know that positive thinking also leads to healthier life.
Our bodies produce different hormones depending on our emotional state. For example, when we are happy and at ease, our bodies release serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. When we are stressed, anxious or angry, our bodies release cortisol. It is easy to see how a sustained attitude in one direction or the other will result in a very different chemical balance in our bodies.
Even if you start the day on an even keel, you trip over the dog on the way out the door and spill coffee on your shoes. This sets you up for a more stressful drive made more challenging by people who insist on cutting into your lane or preventing you from merging into theirs. When you arrive at work, you find the packages you thought you shipped out the previous evening are still lying on the table where you left them. At exactly 8:30 AM, an irate customer bangs on the door and curses at your for twenty minutes for shipping a damaged product. At this point, your cortisol levels have spiked, and they’re set to stay that way for the rest of the day.
Sustained high cortisol levels can result in a compromised immune system and heart disease among other things. The body will often react to the chemical imbalance by revealing unexplained pains, such as lower back pain, or shoulder pain. When you’re stressed and full of negative emotions and thoughts, you also take on symptoms of other people even if there is no underlying cause. You hear someone complaining about a fever or indigestion or lower back pain and suddenly you have it. These pains can serve as reminders to jolt us into an attitude adjustment.
The same idea applies to people who believe they are susceptible to illnesses. If you believe you get the flu or other virus making the rounds, you most probably will. Worrying about these things keeps your body chemistry imbalanced and with the weakened immune system, you are more likely to suffer an attack. The connection between our thoughts and our bodies is real and we experience the result of that thinking.
You have more control over the state of your body’s chemistry that you may realize. You choose how you respond to each unexpected and undesired event. Think a little before reacting. In the grand scheme of things, the coffee spilled on your shoes, or the ill-mannered drivers on the freeway are just not that important. They are certainly not worth wasting your health on, and they are regular, routine events that occur every day. Count to ten slowly, take a deep breath and let it go.
Look at it in the big picture and stay calm. You’ll arrive at work relaxed and ready to go and reserve the emotional reaction for when the important things happen. Choose a positive attitude, don’t let the little things get under your skin and you’re more likely to lead a healthier and longer life.