The Health Benefits of Staying Positive

A positive attitude can lower blood pressure, reduce risk for heart disease, and help better control blood sugar levels. Helping people cultivate positive emotions is front and center for Natalie Bell, a certified mindfulness instructor for the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). “Mindfulness and self-compassion practices have been shown to boost optimism in our daily lives,” says Bell. “With practice, we can influence how we feel about ourselves and our experiences.”

To follow are three simple methods Bell uses in her various workshops. Incorporating just one of these practices into your daily life can make a difference in a short period of time.

Listen to Your Inner Voice

Constant negative reinforcement diminishes self-worth and self-esteem. When you find your inner voice is harsh or critical, pause and replace those words with a supportive voice. Imagine what you might say to a friend or young person who was so critical about himself or herself. Then direct those loving words toward yourself.

Accept That You Are Human

Don’t judge yourself for having a harsh self-critic—it is part of human conditioning. Since negativity is our default setting it will take practice to retrain the brain for positivity. Practice with patience. “The brain has a negativity bias and we tend to think about things going wrong more often,” explains Bell, “Using simple strategies, we find anecdotally that within six weeks many people in the class are focusing more on where and how they can be more positive.”

Gratitude: Three Blessings

Martin Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association and the founder of the positive psychology movement. Among his many exercises for tuning the body toward happiness is this nightly ritual of writing down three things that went well and why. For example, acknowledging that your spouse made your favorite breakfast because she or he can be a considerate, loving person.

Communicating your gratefulness to another person can also work wonders for relationships. According to a recent study from the University of Georgia, researchers reported that spousal expression of gratitude was a significant predictor of marital quality. The recent study was published in the journal Personal Relationships.

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