"Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence".
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.
Recent research shows that being happier doesn't just make you feel better - it actually comes with a whole host of potential health benefits.
How can being happy make you healthier?
Being happy promotes a number of lifestyle habits that are important for overall health. Happy people tend to eat healthier, with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
A study of more than 7,000 adults found that those with positive well-being were 47% more likely to consume fresh fruits and vegetables than their less positive counterparts.
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables were consistently linked to a range of health benefits, including lower risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
In the same study of 7,000 adults, researchers found that individuals with positive well-being were 33% more likely to be physically active, with 10 or more hours of physical activity per week.
Regular physical activity helps build strong bones, increase energy levels, reduce body fat, and lower blood pressure.
In addition, increased satisfaction can also improve sleep habits, which is important for concentration, productivity, physical performance, and maintaining a healthy weight.
A study of over 700 adults found that sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, were 47% higher among those who reported low positive well-being.
Nevertheless, a 2016 review of 44 studies concluded that while there appears to be an association between positive well-being and sleep outcomes, further research from well-designed studies is needed to confirm these findings.
Being happy can help promote a healthy lifestyle. Studies show that happier people are more likely to eat healthier and be more physically active.
Does happiness boost the immune system?
A healthy immune system is important for overall health. Research has shown that living a happier life can help keep your immune system strong.
This can help reduce the risk of colds and infections.
A study of over 300 healthy people looked at the risk of getting a cold after people were given a common cold virus via nasal drops.
The unhappiest people were almost three times more likely to get a cold than their happier peers.
In another study, researchers gave 81 university students a vaccine against hepatitis B, a virus that attacks the liver. Happier students were almost twice as likely to develop a high antibody response, a sign of a strong immune system.
The effects of happiness on the immune system are not fully understood.
It may be due to the effects of happiness on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the immune system, hormones, digestion, and stress levels.
In addition, happy people are more likely to participate in health-promoting behaviors that play a role in maintaining a strong immune system. These include healthy eating habits and regular physical activity.
Being happy can help boost your immune system - which could help you be more robust against colds and infections.
Happiness and stress
Being happy can help lower your stress levels!
Typically, excessive stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, a hormone that contributes to many of the harmful effects of stress, including sleep disturbances, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
A number of studies show that cortisol levels tend to be lower when people are happier.
In one study of over 200 adult participants, lab tests found that cortisol levels were 32% lower in the happiest people than in unhappy participants.
These effects seemed to persist over time. When researchers followed up with the same group of adults three years later, there was a 20% difference between the cortisol levels of the happiest and unhappiest individuals.
Stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, sleep disturbances, and high blood pressure. Happy people tend to produce lower levels of cortisol in response to stressful situations.
Can happiness protect against heart disease?
Happiness may protect the heart by lowering 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 associated with a 9% lower risk of high blood pressure.
Being happy can also reduce the risk of heart disease, the biggest killer worldwide.
A number of studies have shown that being happy reduces the risk of heart disease by 13-26%.
A long-term study of 1,500 adults also found that happiness helped protect against heart disease. The happy adults had a 22% lower risk over the 10-year study period, even after risk factors such as age, cholesterol levels and blood pressure were taken into account.
It seems that happiness can help protect you even if you already have heart disease. A systematic review of 30 studies found that greater positive well-being reduced the risk of death by 11% in adults with established heart disease.
It is important to note that some of these effects may be due to an increase in heart-healthy behaviors such as physical activity, smoking avoidance, and healthy eating habits.
However, a recent study that looked at nearly 1,500 people over a 12-year period found no link between positive well-being and heart disease risk.
More high-quality, well-designed research is needed in this area.
Being happier may help lower blood pressure, which in turn may reduce the risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed.
Can happiness extend life expectancy?
Being happy may help you live longer!
A long-term study published in 2015 looked at the impact of happiness on survival rates in 32,000 people.
The risk of death over the 30-year study period was 14% higher in unhappy people than in happier people.
A large review of 70 studies examined the link between positive well-being and longevity in both healthy people and those with a pre-existing health condition, such as heart or kidney disease.
Higher levels of positive well-being were found to have a beneficial effect on age, reducing the risk of death by 18% in healthy people and 2% in people with a pre-existing condition.
How happiness can lead to increased longevity is not well understood.
It can be explained in part by an increase in positive behaviors that prolong survival, such as not smoking, being physically active, taking medications, and having good sleep habits.
Happier people live longer. This may be because they engage in more health-promoting behaviors, such as physical activity.
Can happiness reduce pain?
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 a higher level of positive well-being can reduce the pain and stiffness associated with the condition.
Being happy can also improve physical functioning in people with arthritis.
A study of over 1,000 people with painful arthritis of the knee found that happier people walked 711 extra steps a day - 8.5% more than their less happy counterparts.
Happiness may also help reduce pain from other conditions. A study of nearly 1,000 people recovering from a stroke found that the happiest people had 13% less pain after three months in hospital.
Researchers have suggested that happy people may have lower pain ratings because their positive emotions help broaden their perspective and encourage new thoughts and ideas.
They believe this may help people develop effective coping strategies that reduce their perception of pain.
Being happy can reduce pain perception. It seems to be especially effective for chronic pain conditions like arthritis.
Ways to increase happiness
Being happy doesn't just make you feel better - it's also incredibly beneficial for your health.Here are 7 scientifically proven ways to be happier.
- Express gratitude: You can increase your happiness by focusing on the things you're 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 called cardio, is the most effective type of exercise for increasing happiness. Going for a walk or playing tennis is not only good for your physical health, but it also helps lift your mood.
Give yourself a good night's rest: lack of sleep can have a negative impact on your happiness levels. If you're having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, check out these (English language) for a better night's sleep.
- Spend lots of time outdoors: Take a walk in the park or get your hands dirty in the garden. Just five minutes of outdoor exercise is enough to significantly improve your mood.
- Meditate: meditating regularly can increase your sense of happiness and also bring a number of other benefits, including reducing stress and improving sleep.
- Eat healthy: Studies show: The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the happier you'll be. In addition, eating more fruits and vegetables also improves your health in the long run.
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