Do you tend to see the glass as half full or half empty?
A growing body of research suggests that having a positive outlook can benefit your physical health. Having a positive outlook doesn’t mean you never feel negative emotions, such as sadness or anger. “Positive emotions expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas, so we can grow and add to our toolkit for survival,” explains Dr. Barbara L. Fredickson, a psychologist and expert on emotional wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“But people need negative emotions to move through difficult situations and respond to them appropriately in the short term. Negative emotions can get us into trouble, though, if they’re based on too much rumination about the past or excessive worry about the future, and they’re not really related to what’s happening in the here and now.”
People who are emotionally well, experts say, have fewer negative emotions and can bounce back from difficulties faster. This quality is called resilience. Another sign of emotional wellness is being able to hold onto positive emotions longer and appreciate the good times. Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life—and focusing on what’s important to you—also contributes to emotional wellness.
Research has found a link between an upbeat mental state and improved health, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weight, better blood sugar levels, and longer life. But many studies can’t determine whether positive emotions lead to better health, if being healthy causes positive emotions, or if other factors are involved.
Among those who appear more resilient and better able to hold on to positive emotions are people who’ve practiced various forms of meditation. In fact, growing evidence suggests that several techniques—including meditation, cognitive therapy (a type of psychotherapy), and self-reflection (thinking about the things you find important)—can help people develop the skills needed to make positive, healthful changes.
Being open to positive change is a key to emotional wellness. As mounting research suggests, having a positive mindset might help to improve your physical health as well.