The Power of Positive Thinking: 70 Years And Counting

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Positive thinking is a term that became popular in the 1950s, and, while its meaning has shifted somewhat over the years, it has never really gone out of style.

Positive thinking refers to the practice of shifting our thoughts to be focused on the positive aspects of ourselves, our lives, and our future. 

Today we can recognize that being endlessly cheerful is not always great, but focusing on the positive, being optimistic and hopeful, has many advantages for our well-being. 

Let’s dive deeper into positive thinking and see where it comes from and what effects it can have on our well-being.

Who started positive thinking? The origins of positive thinking

Positive thinking, in some ways, can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek philosophers who considered how our thinking can shape our behaviors. 

For example, the Stoic school of philosophy, currently experiencing quite a boost, consider that the way we think about things can be changed for a better life, although they did not necessarily focus on the positive alone.

The modern movement focused on positivity started in the 1800s with a watchmaker, Phineas Quimby. 

Quimby was fascinated with the practice of mesmerism, an early version of hypnotism, and eventually, after studying it, opened his own practice. 

When he did, he saw that his ability could alleviate the symptoms of different psychosomatic disorders. 

After reflecting on this idea, he came to the conclusion that the body was influenced by the mind and that false and negative beliefs caused illness. 

Along with his patient Mrs. Eddy,  Quimby theorized that changing thinking, mostly based on the Bible, could heal people.

The term of Positive Thinking, however, became truly popular in 1952 when Norman Vincent Peale released his self-help book, The Power of Positive Thinking. 

It was also grounded in religious thought, suggested visualization and affirmations, and became hugely popular, although mostly from the general public, rather than clinicians.

Since then, the concept of positive thinking has been adopted by many different theorists and authors. It can be understood in different ways, but the concept proved quite enduring and positive thinking is a term we can hear a lot these days too.

What is the power of positive thinking?

Young gorgeous European woman with pretty face thinking about something while sitting with laptop computer in cafe bar, dreamy beautiful female using portable net-book during work break in coffee shop

So, why is the idea of positive thinking so enduring?

Let’s take a look. 

First of all, positive thinking tends to bring a change into the person’s life. 

Specifically, it tends to increase well-being, satisfaction, and shift the way in which we perceive ourselves and our lives. 

When we become more positive, it’s like the world around us changed – suddenly, it’s a lot nicer than it used to be. 

We become accustomed to seeing the silver linings and the good things we do have, which makes us feel more joy, gratitude, kindness, and all those warm and fuzzy things.

In turn, this shift in our thinking can lead to significant improvements across the board.  

We can become more joyful, improving our relationships and drawing more people to us. 

We might be more optimistic and resilient, which can make it easier to overcome obstacles and reach our goals. 

We can become more productive and creative, leading to gains in regards to work. 

 Of course, it’s not magical, but it has the potential to lead to widespread changes that can improve our lives. 

Can positive thinking change your brain?

When we talk about changing the brain, we have to mention first that our brain is a remarkably plastic structure. 

What we choose to learn every day, each habit that we make changes the brain in some way.

When we shift our thinking patterns and habits, that can have an impact on the brain. 

When we shift our thinking to be more positive, it has a direct impact on the brain by changing how it operates and processes information, in some ways. 

Our emotions are experiences that have a neuro-chemical basis – when we feel happy, our brain reacts in different ways, than when we are sad and we experience a release of specific neuro-chemicals that influence our bodies in various ways.  

If we are stressed, the body releases cortisol, for example, and then this reaction has specific effects – a raised blood pressure or problems with digestion. 

Positive emotions can leave our bodies feeling and reacting differently. 

When we shift our thinking, we can make positive emotions more likely and enhance the effects these have on our body. 

What does that mean? 

Positive thinking, when practiced consistently, does change our brain, and so does a consistent pattern of negative thinking. 

It can make us more prone to specific reactions, in particular, positive emotions, and magnify the positive effects these can have on the body.

What happens to your brain when you think positive?

Happy young female creative designer thinking of ideas while working over new collection by workplace

Negative thinking is, largely, a habit. When we are used to seeking the negative, it’s where our brains naturally go first. 

When we start changing that, it becomes easier to see the positives before the negatives and our brain first starts to consider what’s good, not what’s bad. 

Positive thinking can make our brain somewhat more creative. 

Happier people tend to find it easier to come up with new ideas and solutions. 

We tend to make new interesting connections when we think positively.

It can make us kinder and more open to new experiences. 

Positive thinking can help us develop new habits that have some protective effects against problems like depression, although it is, of course, not a universal solution.

Positive thinking can give a boost to our self-esteem as well.

Overall, we can identify many benefits linked with a more positive mindset and the ability to stay optimistic and look for the good in every situation. 

While changing a negative thinking habit is not easy, it’s definitely an idea worth considering. 

The changes we make with such a change in habits are likely to last.

Chronic Resilience. (2014). Where did ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ come from? Retrieved from https://chronicresilience.com/2014/02/18/where-did-the-power-of-positive-thinking-come-from/#:~:text=The%20modern%20positive%20thinking%20movement,New%20England%20learning%20the%20trade.

Chandler, R.(1993). Norman Vincent Peale, ‘Minister to Millions,’ Dies : Religion: Mixing faith and psychology, author of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ spread inspiration worldwide. Los Angeles Times. 

Vosburg, S. K. (1998). The effects of positive and negative mood on divergent-thinking performance. Creativity Research Journal, 11(2), 165–172. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326934crj1102_6

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