No matter what you consider happiness to be—joy, lasting contentment, an optimistic outlook—there is now research proving that happiness does in fact improve health. A recent review of more than 200 studies has determined a connection between overall life satisfaction, happiness, and stress management with a lowered risk of heart disease. “Positive psychological well-being” is found to strongly protect your cardiovascular health.
Laura Kubzansky, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard School of Public Health, has performed many of these studies herself (CNN). Kubzansky notes, “For physical health, it’s not so much happiness per se, but this ability to regulate and have a sense of purpose and meaning.”
This idea of “purpose and meaning” in life, then, is the key factor in linking health to optimism and the regulation of cardiovascular health. But how might you go about finding or realizing this sense of purpose and meaning? For each individual, the search is different.
While genetics do play a role in the attainability of general happiness and optimism, there are many things each person can do to improve his or her outlook on life. For instance, if you wish to improve your sense of well-being and minimize stress, good habits are essential. Exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient amounts of sleep should be staples in your routine. Not only do these good habits boost your mood and minimize stress, but they also improve your health.
Mood and outlook are only small components of of wellness; in order to reach optimal health, create a strong mind-body relationship through stress management, positivity, regular adjustments, proper nutrition, and an active lifestyle.
Even with the influence of genetics on your day-to-day cheerfulness, the environment is also crucial in shaping your view of the world. In considering your environment, though, be sure to focus on your response to what happens around you, not the events alone. If you look to things outside of your control to shape your perspective, you’ve already put yourself in a no-win situation.
By incorporating changes in your lifestyle and response to your environment, you come to enjoy life more, which coincidentally also effects your health in a positive way. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal determined that individuals over the age of sixty who said they enjoyed life were less likely to develop a disability over an eight-year period.
Also a side effect of happiness? Improved mobility. The individuals in the study who said they enjoyed life less had limited range of motion and a lowered gait speed. More reasons to get adjusted and lead a healthy lifestyle!
Practice daily reflection on what is and what is not in your control. Your boss was rude to you? Don’t wait for him or her to change, but rather change your reaction to his or her behavior. It’s raining outside and you took the day off for a beach vacation? Don’t stare out the window and sulk or wish the rain away; change your plans. Adjusting your view on the world around you keeps your stress levels at bay, which leads to lower blood pressure, normal body weight, less inflammation, and a better sense of well-being.
Next time you’re feeling stressed, assess your environment and your reaction to it. Stay active, get adjusted, and do your best to remain optimistic. Being happy really is healthy!
Best of health,
Dr. Chad M. Hoffman