Is happiness the key to good health?
While diet, exercise and good lifestyle habits all contribute to your overall wellbeing, there is one thing that can have a surprisingly large impact: your happiness. It might seem unusual, but current research suggests that happier people live longer, and are healthier overall.
A review of over 150 studies into the subject – published in the journal ‘Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being’ – found that overall, there is practically no doubt about it: happiness influences our health. Being in a better mood, therefore, is something we should all strive to do.
Of course, this is easier said than done; you can’t force yourself to be happy, after all. However, there are a few changes you can make to your lifestyle that can be a huge help in this regard, improving your mood in the long run. But first, let’s look at why happiness can have such a major effect.
How does happiness make you healthy?
When you’re in a good mood, everything else seems better. You can run further, you don’t feel the need to eat junk food, and you’re not tired. You might think this is just a feeling, but the science actually backs it up.
For example, one study of nuns registered their overall happiness. Out of the most cheerful 25 per cent of the nuns, 54 per cent were still alive at the age of 94. In the least-happy quarter, only 11 per cent had made it to this age. This, and many other studies, suggests that happiness can have a serious effect on our longevity.
So why is this? One obvious explanation comes down to stress. Happy people are probably either under less stress or are better able to deal with it, and there is a clear link between this negative emotion and conditions such as heart disease. However, there are other links between happiness and health.
There is evidence, for example, that being in a good mood boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation and aids with healing, all of which are clear health benefits. In all these cases, more research will be needed to prove the link. However, it seems clear at the moment that happiness can clearly boost your wellbeing.
Speaking to Time magazine, Edward Diener – professor of social psychology at the University of Utah – said: “People are doing a lot of things to stay healthy; they’re jogging, riding their bikes, eating fruits and vegetables. We want to remind people that there’s one more thing you need to work on that can also have a big effect on your physical and emotional wellbeing.”
How can you be happier?
There is no single answer to this questions. Your life circumstances and many other factors can all impact your mood; you might be under a lot of stress at work, for example, or suffering from an illness that makes you unhappy. However, there are a few things you can do to help foster a more positive mindset.
One example is sleep. Being tired has a serious impact on your mood, and sleep deprivation can cause other health issues as well. Making an effort to get a full eight hours each night can therefore lead to increased happiness in the long term.
While happiness means different things to different people, in general the biggest boosts in mood come from a sense of fulfilment. You might enjoy watching reality TV for hours, but it won’t give you the same sense of satisfaction as completing a task, meaning it is not as good for your overall happiness.
Of course, said task doesn’t have to be huge. It could be as simple as going for a quick run, cooking a new recipe, or reading a chapter of your current book. Watching TV can even be fulfilling if you choose something challenging, like a documentary or a classic film you’ve been meaning to see.
Another theory is that you will improve your happiness more by doing something for other people than you will for yourself. For example, you could make a romantic meal for your significant other, or just do a few extra chores around the house so they can put their feet up.
Doing something for a loved one not only makes you feel good, it also increases your self-esteem, which is good for long-term happiness. If you can do this on a regular basis, you might find that your happiness increases on the whole, leaving you healthier and more able to keep up your good habits.