Why is happy so healthy?

Why is happy so healthy?

A 90-year-old client of the Minges Wellness Center recently shared with members that her secret to an entire life of good health has been a positive attitude and not sweating the small stuff.

People, who have known this woman for a long time, remarked that she’s always been a happy soul so they figured there must be a connection. 

Is there a real link to being positive and better health? Just as important a question is, can we take steps to move ourselves into a happier zone in order to gain health benefits?

Studies have indisputably proven that positive thoughts and feelings improve the quality of one’s life. More specifically, happiness and hope can positively impact many diseases and extend life. Physiologically, chronic stress and anxiety can significantly wear down the immune system.

Studies also abound that support optimism, being positive as well as resilience as having health benefits like lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control and healthier blood sugar levels. 

So, if we already know all this, why can’t we simply pull on a positive outlook every morning, along with our shoes and socks?

It is true that certain people have a disposition more aligned to negativity than others. That is not to say that unique situations don’t require or deserve appropriate sadness and grief. But with practice and effort, we can all work at being happier to gain the effects that could benefit us.  

Dr. Judith T. Moskowitz, social psychologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, developed a set of eight skills that promote positive feelings. Her research around these skills involved working with persons with recent HIV diagnosis, as well as those dealing with diabetes and other chronic diseases.

In the face of tough life circumstances, happiness behaviors were put to the test in her research. The following eight skills are interventions to regulate positive emotions and could be practiced by any one. They are:

  1. Noticing a positive event each day.

  2. Savoring the positive event by thinking about it again, journaling it or telling someone about it.

  3. Express gratitude - possibly start a gratitude journal.

  4. Notice personal strengths and note how you use them.

  5. Set attainable and realistic goals and note progress.

  6. Reframe events - list ways to reappraise an event positively.

  7. Practice and recognize small acts of kindness daily.

  8. Practice mindfulness by focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.

Being happy in this complex world isn’t always easy. No one will argue that. However, some people have successfully adopted genuine techniques to cultivate a life of more positive thoughts and see the health benefits that go along with it.

In 2005, a review of studies (Psychological Bulletin) of over 275,000 people showed the happiest people owed their success in part to optimism and positive outlook rather than their success making them happy. The evidence is worth reflecting on. Life is full of stress but we can work to have a better outlook each day.  

So, boost your bright side, smile more and speak positive. Influencing health outcomes and longevity may be more tied to happiness than we ever previously thought.

Constance E. Hengel, director of Community Programming and Development at UNC Lenoir Health Care. Constance can be reached at chengel@lenoir.org.

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