Happiness: A Key to Health

When was the last time you felt happy? Blissfully content and without a care in the world? Do you remember what you physically felt? Chances are you felt pretty well. While research is still being established, happiness “has been correlated with better health, both in individuals and communities” (1). As you intrinsically know, happiness improves many aspects of our lives. Yet how does it affect our health, and how can we maximize it in our lives?

From her research and analysis, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (2) established that there are essentially three sources of happiness:

-Our genes (50%)

-Life circumstances beyond our control (10%)

Our own actions (40%)

While we may be predisposed to a certain level of happiness as determined by our genes, there is still much we can do to take control of our happiness levels. Potentially shocking to those of us living in a material world is the mere 10% of our happiness that is attributed to life circumstances (i.e. “whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced” (3)). In fact, Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology, has said that once one’s income passes the threshold of providing basic needs such as “buying food, warmth, and dental treatment” (4), more money does not necessarily increase happiness. In an article by Craig Lambert published in the Harvard Magazine, Gilbert claims that “the difference between an annual income of $5,000 and one of $50,000 is dramatic,” yet says that “going from $50,000 to $50 million will not dramatically affect happiness”(4).

Similarly, in Lyubomirsky’s book The how of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Lyubomirsky reports that “the richest Americans, those earning more than ten million dollars annually, report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the office staffs and blue-collar workers they employ (3).

This leaves us open to opportunities granted by our decisions. Clearly, it is not a matter of simply deciding to become happier. Like anything else in life, increasing or maintaining our happiness levels requires effort. While each individual and their circumstances are unique, there are general methods that can help you to increase your happiness levels (5):

  • Recall things you are grateful for daily
  • Just let it go: foster forgiveness
  • Practice meditation, yoga, and/or other techniques to dispel negative thoughts and emotions
  • Have a supportive network of friends and family

Laughing yoga is one such technique that can instill happiness. Aside from having the power to brighten up a dull day, laughter also entails health benefits. In fact, we “change physiologically when we laugh” (6). Research has proven that blood flow, immune response, blood sugar levels, and sleep are all possibly improved by laughter. If you can recall a time when you begged someone to stop continuing a hilarious spiel because your stomach ached form laughing so hard, then it probably won’t come as a surprise that “laughter appears to burn calories, too” (6).

Laughing yoga is not the only option for obtaining the benefits of higher levels of happiness. Laura Kubzansky, a Harvard School of Public Health associate professor of society, human development, and health, has researched the relationship between positive emotions and health. In a 2007 study, she found that the risk of coronary heart disease seemed to be reduced by “emotional vitality – a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance” (7). In other work, Kubzansky found that optimism halved the risk of coronary heart disease, and that heart disease was linked to worry (7).

The recent growth of interest in the study of happiness, or positive psychology, has brought it to the mainstream, and research continues to elucidate the scientific links between happiness and health. As we strive to achieve success in the world, lets first redefine success, then work towards achieving it with a smile on our faces.

 

 

1)   Srivastavea, Anjuli. “How Happiness Affects Your Health.” ABC News, 2013. Web. 19 July 2014.

2)   “What is happiness?” NOVA/WGBH Science Unit and Vulcan Productions, 2011. Web. 19 July 2014.

3)   Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Penguin Group, 2007. Print

4)   Lambert, Craig. “The Science of Happiness.” Harvard Magazine. January-February 2007. Web. 19 July 2014.

5)   Valeo, Tom. “Choosing to be Happy.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

6)   Griffin, R. Morgan. “Give Your Body a Boost – With Laughter.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

7)   Rimer, Sara. “The biology of emotion – and what it may teach us about helping people to live longer.” HSPH News. Harvard School of Public Health, 2011. Web. 19 July 2014.

 

 

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