How Being Happy Makes You Healthier
All words by Daisy Coyle, RD
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
"The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said these words more than 2,000 years ago, and they still ring true today.
Happiness is a broad term that describes the experience of positive emotions, such as joy, contentment and satisfaction.
Emerging research shows that being happier doesn’t just make you feel better — it actually brings a host of potential health benefits.
This article explores the ways in which being happy may make you healthier.
Summary: Being happy may help promote a healthy lifestyle. Studies show that happier people are more likely to eat healthier diets and engage in physical activity.
A healthy immune system is important for overall health. Research has shown that being happier may help keep your immune system strong. This may help reduce your risk of developing colds and chest infections. One study in over 300 healthy people looked at the risk of developing a cold after individuals were given a common cold virus via nasal drops. The least happy people were almost three times as likely to develop the common cold compared to their happier counterparts.
Summary: Being happy may help keep your immune system strong, which might help you fight off the common cold and chest infections.
Being happy may help reduce stress levels. Normally, excess stress causes an increase in levels of cortisol, a hormone that contributes to many of the harmful effects of stress, including disturbed sleep, weight gain, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. A number of studies demonstrate that cortisol levels tend to be lower when people are happier.
Happiness may protect the heart by reducing blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. A study of over 6,500 people over the age of 65 found that positive well-being was linked to a 9% lower risk of high blood pressure. Happiness may also reduce the risk of heart disease, the biggest cause of death worldwide. A number of studies have shown that being happy has been associated with a 13–26% lower risk of heart disease. One long-term of 1,500 adults found that happiness helped protect against heart disease.
Summary: Being happier can help lower blood pressure, which may decrease the risk of heart disease. However, more research is required.
Being happy may help you live longer. A long-term study published in 2015 looked at the effect of happiness on survival rates in 32,000 people. The risk of death over the 30-year study period was 14% higher in unhappy individuals compared to their happier counterparts.
Arthritis is a common condition that involves inflammation and degeneration of the joints. It causes painful and stiff joints, and generally worsens with age. A number of studies have found that higher positive well-being may reduce the pain and stiffness associated with the condition. Being happy may also improve physical functioning in people with arthritis. One study in over 1,000 people with painful arthritis of the knee found that happier individuals walked an extra 711 steps each day — 8.5% more than their less happy counterparts. Happiness may also help reduce pain in other conditions. A study in nearly 1,000 people recovering from stroke found that the happiest individuals had 13% lower pain ratings after three months of leaving the hospital.
Summary: Being happy may reduce the perception of pain. It appears to be particularly effective in chronic pain conditions such as arthritis.
Other Ways Being Happy May Make You Healthier
A small number of studies have linked happiness to other health benefits. While these early findings are promising, they need to be backed up by further research to confirm the associations.
May reduce frailty: Frailty is a condition characterized by a lack of strength and balance. A study in 1,500 elderly adults found that the happiest individuals had a 3% lower risk of frailty over the 7-year study period.
May protect against stroke: A stroke occurs when there is a disturbance in blood flow to the brain. A study in older adults found that positive well-being lowered the risk of stroke by 26%.
Summary: Being happy may have some other potential benefits, including reducing the risk of frailty and stroke. However, further research is required to confirm this.
Ways to Increase Your Happiness
Being happy doesn’t just make you feel better — it’s also incredibly beneficial for your health.
Here are six scientifically proven ways to become happier.
Express gratitude: You can increase your happiness by focusing on the things you are grateful for. One way to practice gratitude is to write down three things you are grateful for at the end of each day.
Get active: Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is the most effective type of exercise for increasing happiness. Walking or playing tennis won’t just be good for your physical health, it’ll help boost your mood too.
Get a good night’s rest: Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your happiness. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, then check out these tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
Spend time outside: Head outside for a walk in the park, or get your hands dirty in the garden. It takes as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise to significantly improve your mood.
Meditate: Regular meditation can increase happiness and also provide a host of other benefits, including reducing stress and improving sleep.
Eat a healthier diet: Studies show that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the happier you will be. What’s more, eating more fruits and vegetables will also improve your health in the long-term.
Summary: There are a number of ways to increase your happiness. Getting active, expressing gratitude and eating fruits and vegetables are all great ways to help improve your mood.
The Bottom Line
Scientific evidence suggests that being happy may have major benefits for your health. For starters, being happy promotes a healthy lifestyle. It may also help combat stress, boost your immune system, protect your heart and reduce pain.What’s more, it may even increase your life expectancy. While further research is required to understand how these effects work, there’s no reason you can’t start prioritizing your happiness now. Focusing on the things that make you happy will not only improve your life — it may help extend it too."
Daisy's full article with all information / research links is here
All the best Jan