One little-understood but widely practiced way to improve your immune system’s functioning is through having a good attitude.

Yes, this sounds Pollyannish, New Age-ish and downright silly. But take a look at the evidence.

In the 5th century BC, a great plague struck Athens Greece. History knows a lot about its effects because a Greek named Thucydides recorded them in great detail. He was an on the scene historian.

One of his observations regarding the plague, which modern medicine is only beginning to pay attention to, was that, in his (translated) words —

"The most terrible thing of all was the despair into which people fell when they realized they had caught the plague; for they immediately adopt an attitude of utter hopelessness and, by giving in this way, would lose their powers of resistance."

Perhaps Thucydides was an early proponent of "positive thinking" because he caught the plague early on. It killed thousands, but he didn’t lose his "powers of resistance" — he survived, to write his account of the entire incident.

healingattitudes Granted, when you’re feeling weak, feverish, miserable and in pain, it’s not easy to maintain a positive attitude, but there’s more evidence that does work.

Experiments in nursing homes have demonstrated that elderly residents required to water a plant, survive longer on average than nursing home residents who are allowed to feel totally useless.

So you are more likely to have a strong immune system if you have a reason to live that’s bigger than you. A wife or husband . . . children . . . pets . . . a charity or cause — even a simple potted plant.

In his book ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS AS PERCEIVED BY THE PATIENT, Norman Cousins describes how he survived a normally-fatal illness by keeping himself in a good attitude. One of the "prescriptions" he gave himself was to watch a Marx Brothers movie every day. It may seem corny in the pages of THE READERS DIGEST, but laughter may indeed be the "best medicine."

A psychologist named Robert Ader accidentally discovered that rats could be "trained" by classic Pavlovian conditioning to depress their immune systems when given saccharin-water. In Canada, Reginald Gorcynski used Ader’s techniques to RAISE their immune response when bandages were put around their legs.

Experiments have proven that both B and T cells have surface receptors that make them respond to neurochemicals — neuropeptides released by the brain — neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Thus, your brain’s activity DOES affect the activity of your B and T cells.

Your immune system, it seems, can create chemicals which were originally thought to only be created by the brain. Scientists have also discovered that your brain generates chemicals which were once initially believed to only be produced in the immune system.  That could explain much about why sometimes telling someone that they’re "going to get better" actually may work!

Scientific studies of HIV+ patients have shown that those with pessimistic attitudes get sick with AIDS faster than those who are more optimistic.

Stress makes our brains produce a harmful hormone called cortisol. One reason cortisol is so harmful is that it too much of it leads to the suppression of natural killer cell cytotoxicity (NKCC) and a reduction of the number of T cells in our bodies.

Because natural killer cells and T cells are important parts of your immune system, any reduction in them is a direct weakening of your defenses against disease.

So the more you can help yourself calm down from stress, the stronger you’ll keep your immune system.