30 Jul 6 ways happiness is good for your health
via Greater Good – by Kira Newman
Over the past decade, an entire industry has sprouted up promising the secrets to happiness. There are best-selling books like The Happiness Project and The How of Happiness, and happiness programs like Happify and Tal-Ben Shahar’s Wholebeing Institute.
Here at the Greater Good Science Center, we offer an online course on “The Science of Happiness” and boast a collection of research-based happiness practices on our new website, Greater Good in Action.
But all of these books and classes raise the question: Why bother? Many of us might prefer to focus on boosting our productivity and success rather than our positive emotions. Or perhaps we’ve tried to get happier but always seem to get leveled by setbacks. Why keep trying?
Recently, a critical mass of research has provided what might be the most basic and irrefutable argument in favor of happiness: Happiness and good health go hand-in-hand. Indeed, scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our lives longer.
Several of the studies cited below suggest that happiness causes better health; others suggest only that the two are correlated—perhaps good health causes happiness but not the other way around. Happiness and health may indeed be a virtuous circle, but researchers are still trying to untangle their relationship. In the meantime, if you need some extra motivation to get happier, check out these six ways that happiness has been linked to good health.
1. Happiness protects your heart
Love and happiness may not actually originate in the heart, but they are good for it. For example, a 2005 paper found that happiness predicts lower heart rate and blood pressure. In the study, participants rated their happiness over 30 times in one day and then again three years later. The initially happiest participants had a lower heart rate on follow-up (about six beats slower per minute), and the happiest participants during the follow-up had better blood pressure.
Research has also uncovered a link between happiness and another measure of heart health: heart rate variability, which refers to the time interval between heartbeats and is associated with risk for various diseases. In a 2008 study, researchers monitored 76 patients suspected to have coronary artery disease. Was happiness linked to healthier hearts even among people who might have heart problems? It seemed so: The participants who rated themselves as happiest on the day their hearts were tested had a healthier pattern of heart rate variability on that day.
Over time, these effects can add up to serious differences in heart health. In a 2010 study, researchers invited nearly 2,000 Canadians into the lab to talk about their anger and stress at work. Observers rated them on a scale of one to five for the extent to which they expressed positive emotions like joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, and contentment. Ten years later, the researchers checked in with the participants to see how they were doing—and it turned out that the happier ones were less likely to have developed coronary heart disease. In fact, for each one-point increase in positive emotions they had expressed, their heart disease risk was 22 percent lower.
2. Happiness strengthens your immune system
Do you know a grumpy person who always seems to be getting sick? That may be no coincidence: Research is now finding a link between happiness and a stronger immune system.
In a 2003 experiment, 350 adults volunteered to get exposed to the common cold (don’t worry, they were well-compensated). Before exposure, researchers called them six times in two weeks and asked how much they had experienced nine positive emotions—such as feeling energetic, pleased, and calm—that day. After five days in quarantine, the participants with the most positive emotions were less likely to have developed a cold.
Some of the same researchers wanted to investigate why happier people might be less susceptible to sickness, so in a 2006 study they gave 81 graduate students the hepatitis B vaccine. After receiving the first two doses, participants rated themselves on those same nine positive emotions. The ones who were high in positive emotion were nearly twice as likely to have a high antibody response to the vaccine—a sign of a robust immune system. Instead of merely affecting symptoms, happiness seemed to be literally working on a cellular level.
A much earlier experiment found that immune system activity in the same individual goes up and down depending on their happiness. For two months, 30 male dental students took pills containing a harmless blood protein from rabbits, which causes an immune response in humans. They also rated whether they had experienced various positive moods that day. On days when they were happier, participants had a better immune response, as measured by the presence of an antibody in their saliva that defends against foreign substances…
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