You know you should heed the glass-half-full mentality—it’s been linked to a longer, happier, and healthier life. But now, Harvard Medical School researchers say that following the old adage could even make you think a drug works better than it actually does.
In the study, researchers found that people reported 30 percent more pain relief when they were told positive information about a migraine medicine they were on than when they were told nothing or negative information—even if the drug was a placebo!
Credit the added relief to “embodied cognition,” says senior study author Dr. Ted Kaptchuk. It states that your mental state can be influenced by the state of your body and vice versa. In other words, what you’re told can affect more than just your brain; it can affect your body.
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But don’t swap your meds for a smile. Patients in the study still reported higher pain relief higher with the actual drug than the placebo.
An attitude adjustment could help keep your health on track, though: Compared to people who saw the good in situations, pessimists tend to have higher blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease and early death, a University of Pittsburgh study found. Even more: A study from the UK reported optimistic athletes are less likely to become injured, and they bounce back faster if they do get hurt.
Try these easy tricks to adjust your attitude—no matter the scenario:
Smile. A study from the University of Kansas found that participants who smiled—regardless of if they were actually feeling happy—reported lower heart rates and reduced stress. Activating certain facial muscles sends a message to your brain that you are happy, researchers say.
Write down the good you have going on once a day. People who did this also reported better mood levels, with added health benefits: 3 months later, participants had fewer doctor’s visits and experienced fewer symptoms of illness, according to the Southern Methodist University study.
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