What is positive thinking? +9 Examples of Positive Thinking (2023)

What is positive thinking? +9 Examples of Positive Thinking (1)What does it mean to think positive?
Why is positive thinking important?
And how do we learn this?

In this article, we'll address these questions while providing resources to help you cultivate the ability to think more positively. With these insights, you will better understand how to change negative thoughts to positive ones, increase your well-being and even improve your physical health.

Before we continue, we thought you might likeDownload our three positive psychology exercises for free. These science-backed exercises examine fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and give you the tools to improve the well-being of your clients, students, or employees.

This article contains:

  • What is positive thinking in psychology?
  • Are there benefits? 4 search results
  • Positive thinking and physical health: 5 insights
  • 9 real-life examples of positive thinking
  • Positive Thinking vs. negative thinking
  • Review: What Positive Thinking Isn't
  • Our top 5 resources for positive thinking
  • A message to take home
  • references

What is positive thinking in psychology?

Generally speaking, positive thinking can be thought of as positive cognitions. This distinguishes positive thinking from emotions, behaviors and long-term outcomes such as well-being or depression.

In positive thinking research, an accepted definition is still evolving. Caprara and Steca (2005), for example, suggested thislife satisfaction, self-esteem, and optimism were indicators that a person was exhibiting positive thinking.

Indeed, these concepts can involve positive thinking, but they are also often seen as positive outcomes that can result from engaging in positive thinking strategies.

Others described in more detail what positive thinking entails. Bekhet and Zauszniewski (2013) outlined eight key skills that contribute to positive thinking, which can be easily remembered with the acronym THINKING:

  • Convert negative thoughts into positive thoughts
  • Highlight the positive aspects of the situation
  • Stop pessimistic thoughts with relaxation and distraction techniques
  • Note the need to practice positive thinking
  • Know how to break a problem down into smaller pieces to make it manageable
  • Start optimistic beliefswith every part of the problem
  • Cultivating ways to challenge pessimistic thinking
  • Creating positive feelings by controlling negative thoughts

You will find that this list includes techniques such as relaxation, which may or may not be cognitive.

Other researchers have examined the different dimensions of positive thinking and suggested that positive thinking can be understood as a construct with four dimensions (Tsutsui & Fujiwara, 2015):

  • self-encouraging thinking
    This includes thoughts about being your own cheerleader.
  • confident thinking
    This includes thoughts about doing good to others.
  • Self-instructional and controlling thinking
    This involves thoughts that drive performance.
  • self-affirmation thinking
    This includes confident thoughts.

As you can see, positive thinking can be defined in many ways. Inconsistent definitions of positive thinking in research make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the role of positive thinkingMental health.

For example, Diener et al. (2009) suggest that positive thinking is good for well-being, but when positive thinking and well-being are measured using the same scales (e.g., scales measuring optimism, subjective well-being, or life satisfaction ), the search can actually say something is predicted, which isn't very useful or informative.

Clearer definitions of what positive thinking is and how it differs from assessments of well-being are needed to better understand the real benefits and importance of positive thinking.

Are there benefits? 4 search results

What is positive thinking? +9 Examples of Positive Thinking (2)As there are different definitions and components of positive thinking, the benefits can vary.

Here we want to clarify what types of positive thinking existgood for mental healthand wellness and which types might not be so great.

First, thinking positively about yourself is good for your well-being. For example, when people are confident in their abilities, they are more likely to succeed and achieve (Taylor & Brown, 1994).

Seeing yourself more positively than others also appears to mitigate the effects of stress (Taylor & Brown, 1994). This evidence is largely consistent with research on self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem (Miller Smedema, Catalano, & Ebener, 2010)—processes that can be seen as types of positive thinking.

Second, optimistic thoughts are generally considered to be good for well-being. It doesn't seem to matter whether these thoughts are unrealistic or not. Optimistic thinking helps people feel better about themselves, have more positive social relationships, and manage stress better (Taylor & Brown, 1994).

Third, positive thoughts or beliefs about control seem to be beneficial. For example, believing that we are in control during stressful experiences seems to help us cope better (Taylor & Brown, 1994).

The benefits of positive thoughts on control appear to be consistent with other research.challenge mentality. if we have onechallenge mentality, we believe we have the skills and ability to deal with current stressors. This way of thinking can be contrasted with athreat thought, which is characterized by thoughts and beliefs that we cannot effectively deal with our current stressors (Crum, Akinola, Martin, & Fath, 2017).

Diechallenge mentality, where we feel we have more control is more beneficial for us.

Finally, a generally positive attitude towards life, oneself and the future is considered so beneficial that it is often considered part of well-being (Caprara & Steca, 2005). As the philosopher René Descartes once said:

So I guess I am.

This rings true when it comes to positive thinking; when we think we are feeling good, we do.

Positive thinking and physical health: 5 insights

Research has begun to provide compelling evidence of a link between positive thinking and physical health. Optimism, which is often seen as a form of positive thinking, appears to contribute to positive health outcomes. For example, Scheier and Carver (1987) associated optimism with fewer physical symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, muscle pain, and dizziness.

Optimists also seemed to recover faster from coronary artery bypass surgery (Scheier & Carver, 1987). Other evidence points to the potential effects of positive thinking on cardiovascular health, including better blood pressure and reduced risk of heart attacks.

Positive thinking also appears to improve health.quality of lifein cancer patients and may protect against colds, allergies, and other immune system problems (Naseem & Khalid, 2010). Furthermore, AIDS-specific optimism is associated with active coping (Taylor et al., 1992).

While positive thinking has many health benefits, there seems to be an important caveat. Urging patients with serious illnesses to think positively about extremely negative situations can be very challenging.

Psychological support that involves positive thinking can unnecessarily burden patients who are already struggling. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that positive thinking is only one of many potentially successful strategies and should not be imposed on people who feel that it is not a good option (Rittenberg, 1995).

9 real-life examples of positive thinking

What is positive thinking? +9 Examples of Positive Thinking (3)What are some examples of positive thinking? Let's break the positive thinking a little.

Past-oriented positive thinking

Past-oriented thinking that is negative or pessimistic can contribute to major depression. Channeling these thoughts in more positive directions can help us let go of the bad things that happened in the past.

Here are some examples of past-focused positive thoughts that put a positive spin on the past while acknowledging the difficult situation:

  • "I did my best."
  • "The interview didn't go well, but at least I learned what to do differently next time."
  • "I know my childhood wasn't perfect, but my parents did their best."

Present-oriented positive thinking

Present-focused positive thinking can help us deal with current challenges more effectively, reduce our stress, and potentially improve our life satisfaction.

Here are some examples of positive thoughts related to the present:

  • "I'm so lucky to have my friend Jane, who really cares about me."
  • “Breakfast was so delicious and beautiful and I really enjoyed it.”
  • "Even if I make mistakes, I always try my best."

Future-oriented positive thinking

Forward thinking that is negative or pessimistic can contribute to increased worry or anxiety. Making those thoughts more positive can help us stay more present and stop generating negative emotions about things that haven't even happened yet.

Here are some examples of forward-looking positive thoughts:

  • "Everything will be fine."
  • "I can't wait to go to this event next week."
  • "I will keep working towards my goals so I know my future will be great."

By focusing positive thinking back, in the moment and forward, we can use it to address different types of negative thoughts and potentially improve various aspects of well-being.

Positive Thinking vs. negative thinking

Like positive thinking, negative thinking is not a definite construct. But, as a relatively simple example, optimism is often contrasted with pessimism.

When it comes to performance, bothoptimism and pessimismare equally effective. More specifically, a person who is defensivePessimisticbetter with one strategy, and a strategic optimist better with another. This means that negative thoughts can help some people (Norem & Chang, 2002).

When it comes to well-being, optimists tend to be in a good mood, while pessimists tend to be more anxious (Norem & Chang, 2002). But simply eliciting a more positive mood from naysayers not only hurts their performance, it makes themmoreScared.

Defensive pessimists feel better when they can explore potentially negative outcomes – it helps them manage their anxiety more effectively. Furthermore, defensive pessimists perform better than other anxious people who are not pessimists.

All of this implies that ridding people of their pessimism is not only useless but also harmful (Norem & Chang, 2002). So what to do with negative thinking?

In the case of pessimists, it may be better not to force them to think positively. To them, it might seem like trying to put a square pin in a round hole. Instead, it may be more helpful to examine whether negative thoughts are functional, helpful, and beneficial.

It can be helpful to record negative thoughts to understand why they occur and how they affect other emotions and behaviors. use ourWorksheet to record dysfunctional thoughtsDoing this helps you explore negative thinking triggers and practice making your thoughts more adaptive.

That doesn't mean these new thoughts have to be positive, just more helpful. You can also access ourGetting rid of Ants: Automatic Negative Thoughts Worksheetuntil.

Review: What Positive Thinking Isn't

What is positive thinking? +9 Examples of Positive Thinking (4)While we've presented compelling research on the benefits of positive thinking, there are some notable criticisms that shed light on what positive thinking is not.

First, excessive positive emotions can affect well-being. For example, research by Dr. June Gruber suggests that too much positive emotion can be a risk factor for mania (Gruber, Johnson, Oveis, & Keltner, 2008).

Furthermore, thinking too much about happiness has also been linked to lower levels of well-being. In particular, setting inappropriately high standards of happiness and frequently reflecting on one's emotional state has been associated with lower happiness (Ford & Mauss, 2014). This research suggests that there may be some aspects of positive thinking that aren't good for us.

Another common criticism of positive thinking is that it is an inappropriate and potentially ineffective strategy in some situations – for example, in response to the death of a loved one (Bonanno & Burton, 2013).

Later research has shown that cognitive reappraisal, which involves thinking about the positive orsilver coveringsof a situation can help in some situations and harm in others. More specifically, the use of this positive thinking strategy was actually associated with greater depression in controllable situations (Troy, Shallcross, & Mauss, 2013). This suggests that positive thinking may not be an effective strategy in all situations.

Another criticism focuses on certain types of positive thinking that are not science-based. For example, experts in the field of psychology often consider the "law of attraction", which suggests that believing something makes it look like pseudoscience and not based on a scientific method.

In fact, these types of beliefs are considered magical thinking, and research has shown that greater familiarity with the Law of Attraction is associated with higher levels of depression (Jones, 2019). So it's important to keep in mind that positive thinking can be a useful tool in certain circumstances and can contribute to optimism, positive outcomes and well-being, but it's not magic.

Our top 5 resources for positive thinking

Here are some resources to help you learn more about positive thinking and develop positive thinking skills.

Radical Self Love Cards

This worksheet will help you create a deck of self-affirmation cards. This can help cultivate more self-focused positive thoughts.

Get the Deck Stacking Worksheetfor guidelines.

Reverse the rabbit hole

Those of us who are afraid know that thoughts take on a mind of their own and take us with them.

By contemplating positive outcomes, you can potentially derail this process and get out of the rabbit hole of fear.

pack themFlip the rabbit hole worksheetto start.

Pay attention to positive events

It is human nature to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. But if we always focus on the bad things, we will never be able to notice and appreciate the good things.

Make an effort to pay more attention to the positive side of life. take ourEmotional Regulation Skills Worksheetlearn more.

I'm great because...

Sometimes we are self-critical because we simply don't take the time to think about the good in ourselves. Reflecting on our good qualities can facilitate positive thinking.

check out ourI'm great because... Worksheetfor some prompts

My love letter to myself

Exploring our positive qualities and working to better understand how they benefit us can help us value ourselves more.

To build this self-awareness, take a look at ourMy love letter to myself worksheet.

17 Positive Psychology Exercises

If you're looking for more scientific ways to help others improve their well-being, this subscription collection contains17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others thrive.

A message to take home

Positive thinking has occupied psychologists for some time. Still, a consensus definition of positive thinking remains elusive.

Regardless of how positive thinking is measured, it appears to have a positive impact on mental and physical health.

Additionally, there are many helpful resources available to help people develop their positive thinking skills.

Overall, the research suggests that cultivating positive thinking in counseling, therapy, or alone is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. We believe our resources will guide you down a more positive path.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Do not forgetDownload our three positive psychology exercises for free.


  • Bekhet, A.K., & Zauszniewski, J.A. (2013). Measuring the use of positive thinking skills: psychometric tests of a new scale.Western Journal of Nursing Research,35(8), 1074–1093.
  • Bonanno, G.A., & Burton, CL. (2013). Regulatory flexibility: an individual difference perspective on coping and emotional regulation.Perspectives in Psychology,8(6), 591–612.
  • Caprara, G.V., & Steca, P. (2005). Beliefs of affective and social self-regulatory efficacy as determinants of positive thinking and happiness.european psychologist,10(4), 275–286.
  • Crum, A.J., Akinola, M., Martin, A., & Fath, S. (2017). The role of stress mindset in shaping cognitive, emotional, and physiological responses to challenging and threatening stress.Anxiety, Stress and Coping,30(4), 379–395.
  • Diener E, Wirtz D, Biswas-Diener R, Tov W, Kim-Prieto C, Choi DW, and Oishi S (2009). New dimensions of well-being. In E. Diener,Assessing Well-Being: The Collected Works of Ed Diener.(S. 247-266). Springer.
  • Ford, B., & Mauss, I. (2014). The paradoxical effects of seeking positive emotions. In J. Gruber & J.T. Moskowitz (eds.),Positive Emotion: Integrating the Light and Dark Sides(S. 363-382). Oxford University Press.
  • Gruber, J., Johnson, SL, Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2008). Mania risk and positive emotional response: too much of a good thing?Emotion,8(1), 23–33.
  • Jones, B. (2019). What do you think you can achieve: the relationship between pointing and magical thinking.Murray State Theses and Dissertations,140.
  • Naseem, Z., & Khalid, R. (2010). Positive thinking in coping with stress and health outcomes: literature review.Journal of research and reflections in education,4(1).
  • Norem, JK, & Chang, E.C. (2002). The positive psychology of negative thinking.Journal of Clinical Psychology,58(9), 993–1001.
  • Miller Smedema S, Catalano D and Ebener DJ (2010). The relationship of coping, self-esteem and subjective well-being: a structural equation model.Fact sheet for rehabilitation advice,53(3), 131–142.
  • Rittenberg, C.N. (1995). Wishful thinking: an unfair burden for cancer patients?Cancer supportive care,3(1), 37–39.
  • Scheier, M.E. & Carver, C.S. (1987). Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: the impact of generalized expectations of health outcomes.personality magazine,55(2), 169–210.
  • Taylor, S.E. & Brown, J.D. (1994). Positive illusions and well-being revisited: Separating fact from fiction.Psychological Bulletin,116(1), 21–27.
  • Taylor, S.E., Kemeny, M.E., Aspinwall, L.G., Schneider, S.G., Rodriguez, R., & Herbert, M. (1992). Optimism, coping, psychological distress and high-risk sexual behaviors in men at risk for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,63(3), 460.
  • Troy, A.S., Shallcross, A.J., & Mauss, I.B. (2013). A situational approach to emotion regulation: Cognitive reappraisal can help or hurt, depending on the context.psychological science,24(12), 2505–2514.
  • Tsutsui, K., & Fujiwara, M. (2015). The relationship between positive thinking and individual characteristics: Development of the Positive Thinking Scale in Soccer.football science,12, 74–83.
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Last Updated: 04/02/2023

Views: 5427

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Birthday: 1995-01-14

Address: 55021 Usha Garden, North Larisa, DE 19209

Phone: +6812240846623

Job: Corporate Healthcare Strategist

Hobby: Singing, Listening to music, Rafting, LARPing, Gardening, Quilting, Rappelling

Introduction: My name is Foster Heidenreich CPA, I am a delightful, quaint, glorious, quaint, faithful, enchanting, fine person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.