Recent research has been examining the apparent link between positive emotions and good health. It has been known and accepted in the scientific community for quite some time that negative feelings such as stress, fear, anxiety, and anger can cause physical harm to the body. However, this is only half of the equation, since it still doesn’t necessarily prove that happiness can bring benefits beyond simply not being depressed.
Happiness and Health Studies
The kinds of questions that are attempting to be answered by researchers who are interested in this field include:
- Can emotions such as curiosity and hope help prevent diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory tract infections?
- Can optimism protect against heart disease?
- Do happier people live longer?
One study published in 2007 followed more than 6,000 men and women from 25 to 74 years old for 20 years. This study found that emotional characteristics such as hopefulness, engagement, enthusiasm, and the ability to balance the stresses of life were able to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The results still held up, even when things like regular exercise and not smoking were taken into account.
Other studies have focused specifically on the link between lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and overall life satisfaction. However, these studies emphasize that happiness alone cannot prevent heart attacks if other risk factors are still present. But having a good sense of well-being seems to make it easier to maintain good habits, such as exercising, eating healthy, and getting a good amount of sleep. An optimistic mindset also promotes avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and drug use.
Health and Happieness in the Future
Since this research has produced such quantifiable results in the last few years, there is talk in the scientific community about if this information should be implemented into public health policies to promote better health for everyone. Harvard happiness researcher Laura Kubzansky suggests that the best solution for the future would be to take advantage of the influence environment has on positive emotions and try to instill emotional and social competence in children at an early age. This would not only translate to better mental health in the future, but also improved physical health over a lifetime.
Health and Happiness in Your Own Life
If happy habits are something you would like to implement into your own life, knowing exactly which practices are the most beneficial for your health can be difficult to determine. However, further research has shown that certain personal attributes are more beneficial than others for avoiding diseases such as stroke, diabetes, heart attack, and depression. These attributes include:
- Self-regulation: This includes being able to bounce back from stressful situations, continually choosing healthy behaviors such as eating well and physical activity, and avoiding risky behaviors such as overeating, excessive alcohol use, smoking, and unsafe sex.
- Optimism: This attribute is characterized by having the perspective that good things will happen and that your actions are responsible for the good things that occur in your life. Optimism has been shown to cut the risk of coronary heart disease in half.
- Emotional vitality: This includes an overall sense of hopefulness, enthusiasm, and engagement.
Psychological states—both negative and positive—can either be inborn or be shaped by life circumstances. Things such as anxiety, depression, optimism, and happiness are all about 40 to 50% heritable, according to Kubzansky. Though this means that much of your happiness potential might be out of your control, it also means that there is still a lot of room to improve yourself.