Happiness is a strong factor in determining health and longevity. Be happy and optimistic say recent studies and you will be healthier and possibly live longer. It sounds straight forward enough, but how can a person be happy and optimistic if he is ill or has serious problems? Can I choose to change my mood despite my life circumstances? Can I simply control my moods and turn them around?
What is happiness? The dictionary tells us it is a feeling of well-being or contentment, or a pleasurable or satisfying experience. But positive psychologists are often reluctant to use the word happiness. They claim it is overused and vague. Whereas people generally instinctively know what the term means, most scientists prefer the term subjective well-being. This is a term that can be measured more easily. Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of modern-day positive psychology uses the PERMA model: Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. By measuring these five areas, happiness becomes more that just a feeling. Dr. Ed Diener defines happiness not as a goal but as a process that requires positive attitudes about life. He says, “A life full of meaning and values, supportive social relationships and rewarding work is the framework for a happy life.”
Sustained stress, fear, anger or depression can contribute to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In 2012 in the Harvard Public Health Review, researcher Laura Kubansky notes that happiness appears to have a positive health benefit that goes beyond the absence of negative mental health factors. This study followed 6,000 men and women for 20 years. It concluded that emotional vitality, including a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
We now know with certainty about the great inter-connections between mood and emotion on the one hand, and biological measures (like blood pressure and amounts of cortisol and inflammation, as well as disease indicators like artery wall thickening) on the other. Moreover, well-being is significantly related to stronger immune function. Positive thinking people get less colds and viruses. The bottom line is that according to an analysis of 70 studies done showed that amongst well people, those with high well-being are 18% less likely to die of any cause than those with low well-being. Among sick people the difference drops but is still a significant 2% more.
Here are some strategies for enhancing your happiness:
• Envision your future with an optimistic viewpoint. What is your best possible future?
• Avoid social comparisons and overthinking.
• Develop and nurture relationships with others.
• Spend quality time with your family. Play with children and grandchildren.
• Develop strategies for coping with stresses and trauma
• Learn to forgive and forget. Holding grudges and resentments only hurts yourself.
• Take care of your body by exercising, being active, getting some sunshine and SMILE!
The combination of fitness and happiness contribute greatly to our health, well-being and quality of life. Being fit, being happy and being healthy will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”