A new review, published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, has looked at the effects of “subjective well-being” or how people evaluate their own lives, in reference to certain aspects of physical health. And what scientists found was that happiness does indeed have an effect on physical health. (I have a friend whose mother always said before you go into surgery you should do so calm and full of peace because it would help during your surgery and recovery!)
“These studies have confirmed, with ‘almost no doubt,’ that happiness really can influence health, says lead author Edward Diener, professor of social psychology at the University of Utah. They’ve also put forth several theories of how this might happen. For one, happy people likely take better care of themselves and choose healthy behaviors—like exercising, eating well and getting adequate sleep—over unhealthy ones.
There’s also evidence that happiness can have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems, influence hormones and inflammation levels and speed wound healing. It’s even been linked to longer telomeres, protein caps on the end of chromosomes that get shorter with age. Although there are only a few studies on this topic and more research is needed, ‘the findings are promising in offering a direct tie from psychological well-being to aging and health at the cellular level,’ the authors wrote.”1
Looks like my friend’s mother was right!
However, what they are yet unsure of is why it happens for some and not others. Just like how one person can smoke for 50 years and never get lung cancer while another, who never smoked a day in his life, gets lung cancer and dies. Regardless, Diener hopes that his research will convince doctors to begin monitoring positive emotions during routine physicals, as well. He’d like doctors to ask more questions about people’s level of happiness, in addition to their questions about exercise, smoking and alcohol habits. But, this will mean new training; the medical community will need “guidance on how to intervene or where to refer patients who report low levels of happiness.” 2
Life is going to happen- both the good and the bad. However, this review seems to imply that how we deal with what happens, our response to it and life it general, impacts every aspect of our health.
This time of year can be stressful but perhaps make a decision in the New Year that you’re going to slow down, appreciate more, stress less, breathe deeper and smile. Oh, and laugh. As often as you can. It’s for your health after all!