By Edward Grinnan, January 28, 2011

Is there a link between how we think and how we feel? Does a positive attitude pay off in healing and better health outcomes?

Depends on who you ask. In an op-ed column in last Tuesday’s New York Times, Richard Sloan, a professor at Columbia University Medical School, argued in the negative. He doesn’t believe the data supports the notion that there is a causative relationship between a good attitude and good health.

The primary concern behind Sloan’s article is valid: If a person’s mind has power over the body then wouldn’t it stand to reason that he or she is in part blameworthy for their physical ails? Sloan argues that it is cruel and unfair to hold a sick person accountable on those grounds and I totally agree. My wife has lupus and it is very hurtful when people seem to think that if only she had a more optimistic outlook she would get better. It is hard to be positive when you’re sick. Some days you are just completely bummed out.

To Sloan’s other point I have to take exception. I think the jury is still out on whether a person’s thinking can directly impact health and healing. We may never be able to prove this. Still, in a more general way it makes sense that optimism is a key advantage in keeping or regaining your health. A positive person is more likely to eat right, exercise, take medicine, get rest and follow through on physical therapy. These things are good for her, she believes in them, she does them. Her health is more likely to improve than the negative, fatalistic patient who is probably less motivated toward positive behaviors that improve health.

Some of the most inspirational stories Guideposts has ever published are about amazing journeys in healing, where faith, prayer and a strong spirit play crucial roles. Some people get better because of a miracle. For most, though, they recovered because they took on the battle with an optimistic view. I can’t see where not believing helps you as much as believing.

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