Do Positive Thoughts Extend Life?

Health columnist Jane Brody purposely used the indefinite adjective—“may”—in her conclusion about the benefits of positive thoughts:  "[Positive thoughts] may actually improve health and extend life." In the article, she offers proven examples of health situations to make her case that "what happens in the brain influences what happens in the body." 

Brody asked me about the role of emotions in my own recovery. "'Fostering positive emotions helped make my life the best it could be,' Dr. Harpham said. 'They made the tough times easier, even though they didn't make any difference in my cancer cells.'" 

I shifted the focus to quality of life because (1) proving that emotions cause recovery from serious illness is extraordinarily difficult and (2) the body’s self-healing potential is limited. I worry about patients blaming themselves for not being positive enough, if their health declines.

In the pursuit of Healthy Survivorship, here's a good question: Will my life be better if I’m relatively calm and happy while dealing with illness than if I’m anxious and unhappy? If your answer is “yes,” pay attention to the article’s takeaway: You can learn skills to experience more positive emotions when faced with the severe stress of a life-¬threatening illness. The article lists 8 skills developed by Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Healthy Survivors understand that emotions affect—not control—health. They explore all the ways they can contribute to both their physical recovery and feeling better. 

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