You’ve likely heard that phrase before – “the power of positive thinking.” In general you know what it means, too. When you think about the power of positive thinking, you know it’s in reference to how being positive is supposed to make good things happen, like if you visualize a free parking space, one will magically appear.

Realistically, we know there’s no real correlation. If you’re someone who believes in the powers of reality and reason, you know that it’s essentially a game of chance. When you think positively, that parking space may or may not show up.

Because of this, does that mean the power of positive thinking is nothing more than a motivational myth?

In some ways, but there is a more scientific reality to the concept as well. While thinking positively may not get you that parking space, it can affect your body in very important ways.

The Real Science

There may not be evidence to say that positivity cures terminal illness or performs miracles, but it is a pretty powerful way of thinking regardless.

For years, the power of positive thinking was definitely regarded as naïve, but there is now evidence to back up the claims that it does work wonders. In 1985, psychologists Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier conducted research on the true power of optimism and proved that it’s not just a bunch of bull.

More recent studies include one done by University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Fredrickson. Based on her research, Fredrickson proved that negativity narrows your mind focus, and a lot of the time this could be a bad thing. When you think negatively, you don’t look at your other options.

Negative emotions are very-much all consuming, whereas positivity opens you up to more possibilities and ideas. When you think about this, this becomes something akin to common sense: those who are more positive are more open to possibilities and want to get things done, while negative people are very much set in their ways and don’t care to try and reverse them.

In more scientific descriptions, Fredrickson set up a test that divided her research subjects into five different groups. She showed each group film clips – the first two groups were shown positive emotion clips, the third group saw neutral photos and the last two groups were shown clips that produced negative emotions.

After the clips were shown, each group was told to write down a situation in which they would feel the emotions they saw and what they would do if placed in that situation. Those in the negative groups barely wrote anything, while those who saw positive images wrote down longer responses.

This illustrates the basic sensibilities that optimistic and pessimistic people share. While those who experience negativity and anger can be passionate about this anger, the emotion gives them tunnel vision, like the phrase “blind rage.” Those who are happier are more open to the world, making them more happy and healthy in general.

When you’re more open to possibilities, you’re more likely to be a better-rounded person. In general, positive people are more successful, healthier and happier. Isn’t that what you want for yourself in life?