All therapy is about change. Whether someone seeks professional advice or follows a self-help program, the underlying assumption is always that something is wrong and needs fixing. In my line of work, as a health counselor, it's usually diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, etc. that could be improved upon.
But when I find myself coaching clients on how to overcome their shortcomings, I often wonder why there is so little attention being paid to what is right and works well in their lives already. Shouldn't we all be encouraged to draw more often from our strengths rather than constantly be reminded of our weaknesses? Isn't there anything that's good enough to learn from and build on? Why not look back on occasion and appreciate what we have already accomplished and what we have been successful at?
Questions like these, of course, go to the heart of what has become known as the power of positive thinking, or positive psychology, and its potential influence on health outcomes, both physical and mental. The very idea that looking at life with a greater sense of optimism, appreciation, and gratitude could enhance a person's well-being in multiple ways has become increasingly accepted among health experts, and was widely popularized by the work of psychologists like Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami who both have done extensive research on the subject.
In their combined research, they found that evoking feelings of gratitude can help people develop other positive emotions that, in turn, can be instrumental in their dealings with issues like weight control, stress management, or relational problems.
Another leader in the field of positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, successfully pioneered many psychological intervention methods to treat patients with clinical depression.
In tests conducted by Emmons and McCullough, participants who were asked to focus on their daily misgivings and irritations fared much worse in terms of overall well-being than their counterparts who directed their attention mostly on pleasant experiences. The differences were not just of emotional nature but extended demonstratively to physical symptoms and conditions as well.
Cultivating a gratuitous and appreciative attitude can be advantageous in almost any situation. People with a positive disposition tend to cope more efficiently and constructively with life's daily challenges. It's like they are getting a boost from a source deep within that gives them greater strength and resilience.
Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take good care of their physical health and wellbeing, says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" (William Morrow, 2014). They are motivated to maintain a health lifestyle and get regular medical check-ups because they value themselves, she says.
The fact is that it doesn't really take great efforts to reach the point where a positive outlook becomes natural. Simply ask yourself a few questions by the end of your day, suggests Lindsay Holmes who writes for Huffington Post's "GPS for the Soul" -- e.g. What did I learn today? How do I feel about what happened or did not happen? What can I do better tomorrow? Where am I in my pursuit of my goals? Be encouraged about your advances, and forgiving with your setbacks. Making this a habit will not only foster a generally more optimistic perspective but also lead to greater success and fulfillment in the long run.
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Getty ImagesI grew up on the rules of Emily Post in a family where niceties -- like holding the door open for someone -- were more expected than a pleasant surprise.
Good manners have multiple, positive benefits. I try to practice them on a regular basis -- even if it's just saying "please" and "thank you."
Getty ImagesI strive to tell others when they've made a difference in my life on a daily basis. If I'm being completely honest, accepting myself also means knowing I wouldn't be who I am without the amazing people around me.
A genuine compliment can go a long way. Did someone inspire you today? Were they a great friend during a time you needed it most? Tell them. They'll appreciate it more than you know.
Getty ImagesI try to make forgiveness a habit, mostly because the alternative of holding onto a grudge can be exhausting. Everyone makes mistakes.
Research shows holding onto anger can harm your well-being; it's much healthier to let it go. Practicing forgiveness can lead to less stress and anxiety, boost your heart health and help your self-esteem, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Getty ImagesThe health perks of gratitude are hard to ignore. Thankfulness can make you more optimistic, help you feel less lonely and even lower your blood pressure.
I try to make expressing gratitude a daily exercise, whether it's reflecting on the positives of my day as I go to sleep or writing them down in a journal. Think of it as a workout for your brain.