Positive thinking, and related practices, such as prayer, meditation, and gratitude, have been repeatedly shown to benefit our health, even if researchers don’t really know why. Although a good attitude/positive mindset is not a magic bullet — “be cheerful and life will be perfect” — there are principles at work, whereby a good attitude causes tendencies toward positive things.
We see this in secular source and Eastern religious systems, but also within Christian Scripture. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content…” (Philippians 4:11) “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4) I could go on, but I think you get the idea: “positive thinking” is not in opposition to Christianity.
There is evidence that emotions such as joy and gratitude have a positive impact on our physical health, while emotions like fear and anger have a negative impact on our health.1 2 How can we encourage ourselves to live more frequently in the joy & gratitude arena and less often in the fear & anger arena? There are a few tips on the stress management page. Other options include intentional expression of gratitude, and prayer & meditation.
I’ve read that those who express gratitude are even more content than those who just are grateful. Perhaps this is simply a matter of choosing to spend some time dwelling in that attitude of gratitude. Take some time to think about and express gratitude for your blessings. Writing down three things you’re grateful for each day in your journal or planner is one way to foster a gratitude habit.
It’s also beneficial (for you and for them!) to say thank you to other people who have blessed you. A quick post to a Facebook wall, a postcard in the mail, or an in-person comment can all bless the person you’re thanking — and you right along with them! (Keeping a small stack of postcards on hand, pre-stamped, makes sending a quick note very easy.)
Also consider taking the time to let the management know when a waiter/waitress, cashier, or other service employee has done a particularly good job. People often complain when service is not what they expected, but few take the time to acknowledge when service is good.
Prayer & Meditation
Prayer is a pretty simple thing: just talking to God. It doesn’t require any special training or fancy words.
Meditation makes some Christians panic, because they think of Eastern religious meditation and “clearing the mind.” But really, at its heart, meditation is merely focusing the mind on a given “target.” (This does serve to “clear the mind” of everything else, I guess, in a manner of speaking.) The Psalmist talks about meditating on God’s Word day and night. The primary difference between Christian meditation and “other” meditation is simply what we choose to focus our thinking on.
When considered in the context of the things I’ve just mentioned, “positive thinking” is not really a “paste on a smile and pretend everything is always okay even if it’s not” kind of thing. It’s merely a practice of focusing more on joy, gratitude, and other uplifting things (as well as finding solutions), and less on complaining, grumbling, and worry (along with a sense of fatalism).