Voltaire: I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health.
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley offers an online course called “The Science of Happiness” and they provide a collection of research-based happiness practices on their website plus a “Greater Good” email newsletter. See their website, http://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=happiness.
Why focus on positive emotions instead of, maybe, boosting our productivity and success to make us happy? We all have setbacks, so why keep trying? Research has proven that happiness and good health go hand-in-hand. Scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our lives longer.
Which is it? Does happiness cause better health? Or does good health cause happiness? Happiness and health may indeed be a virtuous circle, but researchers are still trying to untangle their relationship. For extra motivation, here are ways that happiness has been linked to good health.
Happiness protects the heart: A 2005 research paper found that happiness predicts lower heart rate and blood pressure. Research also shows that happiness can be linked to healthier hearts even among people who might have heart problems. When I visit the doctor, I sit and imagine myself in Hawaii and, magically, my blood pressure is at a normal level.
Happiness strengthens your immune system: Everyone knows a grumpy person who always seems to be getting sick. One research study showed that those participants with a high positive emotion were nearly twice as likely to fight off a virus. My new motto? Don’t be grumpy and you won’t get sick!
Happiness combats stress: Stress can trigger biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure. Happiness seems to lessen these effects, or at least helps us recover more quickly.
Happy people have fewer aches and pains: Unhappiness can be painful. One research study showed that people with the highest levels of positive emotion at the beginning of the program saw their health improve over the course of the study, and ended up healthier than their unhappy colleagues. This could mean the results aren’t merely evidence of people in a good mood giving rosier ratings of their health than people in a bad mood.
Happiness combats disease and disability: Happiness is associated with improvements in more severe long-term conditions, and not just shorter-term aches and pains. It’s been proven that older adults with more positive emotions were less likely to suffer from frailty and impaired endurance.
Happiness lengthens our lives: Happiness especially contributes to longevity. In a famous study of happiness and longevity, the life expectancy of Catholic nuns was linked to the amount of positive emotion they expressed in an autobiographical essay they wrote upon entering their convent decades earlier, typically in their 20s. Researchers combed through these writing samples for expressions of feelings like amusement, contentment, gratitude, and love. In the end, the happiest-seeming nuns lived a whopping 7-10 years longer than the least happy.
What does this have to do with me? I’ve discovered that I think less negative and distorted thoughts than a year ago. I need to think positively and have recently bragged that writing this blog has helped me highlight the good things and people around me. What about you?