Would you really want to live forever if you can’t have any fun doing it? You’ve heard it a million times: Health is happiness. Health correlates more strongly with happiness than any other variable. After all, the connection between living longer and the meaning and purpose of life has been recognized since Aristotle. Fast forward to today: What if, along with eating your Brussels sprouts or exercising, you found ways to laugh every day?
If you’re facing a serious illness, or are in pain, certainly it’s difficult to feel happy, and anyone would hope for you to have the best outcome. But any amount of positive emotions, like happiness, has health benefits. With the demands and stresses of the holidays approaching, here are 6 facts on happiness that might inspire you.
1. You are less likely to die
People who report that they feel a larger sense of well-being are less likely to die compared to those who do not. Of course it can be difficult to differentiate between causes and effects, but there are good research studies to show at least a correlation between the two.
2. Happiness is protective
It would be nice if a happiness intervention stopped all illness, but this field is relatively new. However, it can contribute in a smaller way. Happiness is associated with less risk of a stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. There is also some evidence that people with serious health conditions such as coronary artery disease, spinal cord injury and heart failure are more likely to recover more quickly when they feel happy.
3. Positive emotions strengthen resilience
A study of 175 Belgian adults, ages 40-65, who underwent blood tests for three inflammation markers found that the participants who experienced a broader range of positive emotions had lower levels of inflammation compared to those who experienced fewer positive emotions. You can put this into practice by noticing when you are experiencing a positive emotion and tag it. Tagging, or labeling it can help you experience more positive emotions throughout the rest of the day.
4. Be mindful
The effects of happiness based on positive psychology have been widely examined. An overview of more than 100 trials involving people with cancer, cardiovascular disease or other conditions showed that mindfulness improved depression, anxiety and stress compared with control conditions. And several studies of mindfulness for patients with chronic pain can help lessen distress and coping skills.
5. Move more
Do you remember, when you were young, Mom telling you to go outside and play? The behavior that has been studied most extensively regarding happiness is physical activity. The link between depression and physical inactivity has been recognized for many years.
6. Giving to appreciate our shared humanity
Doing something nice for someone changes the activity in your brain in ways that increase feelings of happiness. We are hard-wired to give. In a recent experiment, toddlers given goldfish, which researchers knew they adored, were twice as happy when they gave them away to a puppet named Monkey. For many of us though, it seems overwhelming, that your small donation can’t possibly make a difference. Being able to envision how your money will be spent does.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.