Happiness boosts immunity

Happiness boosts immunity

Does an optimistic attitude boost one_ã_s immune system? University of Kentucky psychologist Suzanne Segerstrom has been studying this subject for years, and her latest research, just published in the journal Psychological Science, provides evidence of a link between upbeat expectations and immunological strength.

In a study of 124 first-year law students, Segerstrom and her co-author, Sandra Sephton, examined the relationship between personal optimism and cell-mediated immunity (CMI), which plays a central role in protecting against viral infections. At five points over the course of the school year _ã” in August, October, December, January and February _ã” participants answered a series of questions and had their CMI measured through a simple skin test.

To gauge their optimism level, they were asked to what degree they agreed with a series of statements, including _ã–I will be less successful than most of my classmates_㝠and _ã–It_ã_s unlikely that I will fail._㝠A separate survey measured the level of positive and negative emotions they were feeling at that point in time.

The end-of-year results were decisive. _ã–Changes in CMI across time correlated with changes in optimism,_㝠the researchers report. _ã–When optimism increased, so did CMI. When optimism decreased, so did CMI._ã

Looking deeper into the data, Segerstrom found an increased level of positive emotions predicted increases in cell-mediated immunity. However, shifts in an individual_ã_s level of negative emotions such as depression and anxiety did not predict changes in CMI.

This suggests a simple lack of tension or worry isn_ã_t sufficient to prompt an immune system response. Rather, this positive physiological change appears to require actual happiness to kick in.

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