Happiness is more than a concept. It is a reality albeit subjective to many people. The Webster’s dictionary offers a definition of happiness “as a state of well-being and contentment“. It is a “pleasurable or satisfying experience.” Being closely associated to anything that is positive to the mind, there are evidences to support the notion that happiness is not just beneficial to the individual’s mental health, but to the physical health as well. How good is happiness to your health?
Happiness means longer life to healthy individuals. – In a study of happiness and its contribution to health, Dutch researcher Ruun Veenhoven (2007) concluded that “the effect of happiness on longevity of healthy population is so strong. The size of the effect is comparable to that of smoking or not.” In a similar light, University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, who analyzed long-term studies of human subjects, experimental human and animal trials, and studies that evaluate the health status of people stressed by natural events announced that “the general conclusion from each type of study is that your subjective well-being — that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed — contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations.”
In the science of happiness, our general understanding and acceptance of happiness as a curative instrument for ill individuals redirects our attention more to its preventive role in the development of illnesses. In his analysis of previous related works, Veenhoven finds that happiness as “healing” or “curing” an illness may not always be the case. This means, happiness proves more beneficial to persons who are not sick because the state of being happy does not treat an already existing illness. Previous studies further suggest that more healthy or non-ill individuals who are happy live longer than the unhappy ones.
Chronic unhappiness triggers stress response. – Our body is programmed to activate its fight-flight response in situations when it senses threats (what we commonly refer to as stress).
Stress in any form – either external (e.g. like pollution in the environment) or internal (e.g. infection), disturbs the natural balance of every bit of physiological activity occurring in our body. Once the body detects that something is wrong, the systems of our body – like the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the immune system among others all respond in a well-coordinated fashion which are perfected by nature to protect the body’s integrity and to maintain homeostasis (balance).
It has been well-documented that negative mental states have negative effects on the physical body. There are also indications that positive mental states protect against illness, like better immune response when in good mood (Cohen 1995 in Veenhoven 2007). People who are chronically unhappy are constantly under stress. Regardless of the cause, unhappiness triggers the body’s natural response to fight against it, and some of these responses which can be objectively measured are the vital signs changes: increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and fast breathing. Other symptoms emerge like difficulty getting sleep, poor appetite and probably bowel elimination problems.
Happy people have better health. – Studies show that people who are happy are more likely to adopt health-promoting lifestyles like exercise (as people who are happy are more likely to engage in sports activities), maintenance of ideal body weight and avoidance of unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol.
Beyond the borders of the United States, evidences are similarly compelling. In a survey conducted in Uruguay, Gerstenblüth, Rossi and Jewell (2008) sought to find a relationship between health and happiness based on individual self-reports and the results show that “individuals who report themselves to be in good health have a probability of being at the highest level of happiness between 18 and 29 percentage points higher than individuals who report worse health.”
Happy people make better life choice. – Evidences suggest that people who are happy tend to make better choices brought about by a high level of self-confidence which translates to being open to the many of the world’s possibilities as opposed to getting stuck with a singular, narrow perspective view of the world.
With our current knowledge on the positive effects of happiness to health based on scientific findings, the many ways to adopt happiness to daily life is more than a recommendation for an individual. Besides the worldview of happiness that we commonly share as something essential that leads to better life, experts believe that there are more than sufficient evidences to assert that choosing happiness is not only beneficial to one person but to the entire community or society as well.
“Happiness Improves Health and Lengthens Life, Review Finds”. Science Daily, March 1, 2011. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110301122156.htm
Veenhoven, R. (2008). “Healthy happiness: Effects of Happiness on Physical Health and the Consequences for Preventive Health Care“. Journal of Happiness Studies. http://www.springerlink.com/content/0474658172222350/
Gerstenblüth, M., Rossi, M., Jewell, R. Todd (2008). Health and Happiness in Uruguay. A research monograph. http://www.ugr.es/~teoriahe/RePEc/gra/wpaper/thepapers10_06.pdf