Happiness is often considered a benefit unto itself. We strive to find it in what we do and how we live. When we experience it, we feel better. But, could its positive effects be twofold — good for not only our mental well-being but our physical well-being, too?
Research is starting to show that, in addition to lifting our spirits, happiness offers broad advantages to your health. What are these benefits?
There is a well-documented relationship between stress and happiness. Stress is a natural occurrence. It’s something we deal with every day. People who tend to experience the world in a positive way can have greater resilience to stress. Even recalling happy memories can allow people to better cope with acute stress.
Leading a less stressful, healthier life also helps you avoid a host of health problems caused by stress. From depression to obesity to heart disease, chronic stress can hit you on several levels. Issues like insomnia (which we have discussed before) and anxiety disorder compound the strain, creating a cycle that is tough to escape. Working to improve your happiness aids in counteracting these problems.
Reducing stress isn’t the only way that happiness helps your heart. Studies have shown that happiness can also lead to a lower heart rate, blood pressure, and risk of certain diseases. According to a Columbia University Medical Center study, happier people are 22 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Additionally, other studies have found that positivity can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by about 30 percent.
While the correlation is strong between happiness and these outcomes, we cannot imply causation yet. Admittedly, there are many factors that could lead to these findings.
Healthy Immune System
If those benefits weren’t enough, happiness also boosts your immune system. That’s right! If you’re happier, you may be sick less often.
Multiple studies have directly tested the relationship between happiness and immunity. One study found a predisposition to experience positive emotions is linked with a lower risk of catching a cold. Another study found that positive affect may lead to a decreased susceptibility to upper respiratory infections. And, a third study discovered that a particular antibody’s response was greater on days where people reported being in a high positive mood compared to a low positive mood.
Why are we seeing results like these? Part of the reasoning relates back to happiness’ effect on stress. Stress causes a bump in cortisol, a hormone that suppresses the immune system. Happiness prevents the release of cortisol, which allows the immune system to keep functioning. Studies have also linked stress with a weaker response from white blood cells, which results in a weaker immune system.
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These three health benefits are only naming a few of the reasons to get happy. Happiness can even add years to your life. There’s no time like the present to pursue this win-win!
Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley — Six Ways Happiness Is Good for Your Health
Happify Daily — Why Happiness is Good for Your Health (Infographic)