ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Understanding the Psychology of Positive Thinking

Updated on January 20, 2019
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc in applied psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT and mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Clouds and Positive Thinking

Without clouds we have no rain, without rain we have no life.
Without clouds we have no rain, without rain we have no life. | Source
Being Positive is a choice
• Doesn’t mean ignoring the negative
• Don‘t wallow
• Acknowledge you anger and then move on
• Break the pattern of negativity
• Benefit intellectually, socially and physically
• Recovery from major trauma possible
.•Try Mindfulness Meditation, or any meditation.

It IS a choice

Research has found that Positive Thinking is all about choices.

Most people do not understand that we have a choice as to how we react to situations and events in our life. When an individual is confronted with a situation, they think and act in a way that has been conditioned over time.

However, many people get ‘stuck’ with the same or similar negative reactions.

But we can make a conscious effort to react with positive emotions.


Jessica and Sarah have both made applications to universities and both of them get the second choice on their list.


Jessica is disappointed and reacts negatively, complaining and grumbling about how much better her first choice was, how much she wanted her first choice and how the second choice was second rate. She is de-motivated before she even begins at college.


Sarah is also disappointed but after a little while she takes another look at the second choice and decides it’s not so bad. After all, she chose to put it second because it does interest her and it will be a stepping stone to eventually reaching her goals. She begins to feel better.

Both Jessica and Sarah are keeping it real by acknowledging their disappointment but Sarah quickly moves on and finds the positive in the situation.

Jessica is disappointed
Jessica is disappointed | Source
Sarah takes another look
Sarah takes another look | Source

Mindfulness Meditation

Of course, it's not always so easy to move on. The disappointment can hang around, invading our thoughts, even when we're trying to think about something else.

And that's where Mindfulness Meditation can be of benefit: Mindfulness Meditation,and indeed Mindfulness Living, trains us to live in the present moment, and this has more than one benefit.

When we are in the present moment, we're not thinking about past events or disappointments, nor are we worrying or fretting about the future. It gives us the opportunity to step back from our problems so that when we come to look at them again, we often see them with fresh eyes and a different perspective.

Mindfulness Meditation, in fact any meditation, can also reduce stress and anxiety and this in turn reduces the psychical manifestations of these problems.

Try Mindfulness Meditation

Negative emotions ARE a reality of course, but...

Thinking positively does not mean ignoring the negative completely but it is about breaking patterns, becoming aware when we’re thinking negatively and not allowing it to become a knee-jerk reaction to every situation.

In fact, a ratio of 3:1, i.e. three positive emotions to one negative emotion per day, results in optimum benefit

Many benefits of positive thinking

What’s interesting about this is that not only will Sarah benefit immediately by feeling better and becoming motivated about college, but by training herself to think positively she will also improve intellectually, socially and physically.

This has been researched extensively by a well-known psychologist named Barbara Fredrickson in conjunction with several colleagues. Fredrickson refers to her theory as the Broaden and Build Theory [1].

Martin Seligman, One of the Founding Fathers of Psychology

Recovery from Major Trauma

Of course, major traumatic events happen to most of us throughout our life, such as the death of a loved one, serious illness or accident or bankruptcy, for example. It's difficult to find positive thoughts about such events.

But Fredrickson and colleagues, along with Martin Seligman (the "founding father" of positive psychology") have also shown that individuals who have already developed a habit of consciously generating positive emotions with positive thoughts recover faster and have less lasting effects from traumatic events [2].

This has been taken on board recently by the U.S. Military Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program
Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program | Source

Lasting effects of positive emotions

The research shows that positive emotions are essential for positive personal growth. The lasting positive effect of positive emotions outweigh any negative effect of negative emotions.This has wider implications for our future well-being:

If we can cultivate a habit of self-generating positive emotions with positive thoughts, then this can result in a more open outlook. A more open outlook will result in us being more open to new ideas, situations and circumstances, something that we cannot avoid throughout life.

This open outlook in turn generates more positive emotions, resulting in more openness, and so on, overall significantly improving well-being [3].

Keeping it real

So, begin with the small things and work from there:

Next time you stub your toe, your neighbour annoys you or your car breaks down, acknowledge your feeling of irritation or anger and then consciously move on.

Think about what things means in the greater scheme of things. How is this going to affect your life? Perhaps there’s something you can learn from it? This is one area where Mindfulness Meditation is particularly helpful because it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the present, and see things from a new perspective.

And the one that I always use: This time next week/month/year (depending on the situation) will I remember this? How will I remember it? Is it likely to be life changing? If it IS life changing, what changes are likely to be for the better?

Acknowledge your anger...
Acknowledge your anger... | Source
...and then move on
...and then move on | Source

Personal evidence of benefits of positive thinking

Below is a photograph of my daughter on her graduation day. Around it I have built in the four benefits of Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory.

My daughter was diagnosed as being dyslexic when she was thirteen years old. I asked her then how she felt about that diagnosis. She said “First I felt a bit disappointed and scared. But then I thought that at least it means I’m NOT stupid!” She continued to adopt this positive attitude throughout her academic life. My daughter went on to achieve an honors BA degree in history from the prestigious Trinity College University, Dublin, Ireland.

I did it!
I did it! | Source

Will YOU try it?

Would you be willing to try positive thinking for just one week and see how it works?

See results


[1] Fredickson, B.L., (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden and build theory of positive emotions. American Psychology, 56, 218-226.

[2] Tugade, M.M., & Fredrickson, B.L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 320-333.

[3] Fredrickson, B.L., & Joiner, T., (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science 12, 2

Some links to websites with more information on the psychology of positive thinking


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)