Happiness and your health go hand in hand but when asked, few people can really tell you what happiness really means, or rather what would truly make them happy. Many are quick to tell you what makes them unhappy, but research has shown that what we “think” would make us happy is not always the case.
What is happiness?
One of the reasons happiness is so elusive for so many is because it is purely subjective and is different for every type of personality. For example, what might make one person the happiest is an evening to themself with a good book sitting by the fire, while others may find this same activity to be boring because their version of happiness is to be surrounded by friends and family.
The fact is that happiness is the general sense of well-being and it comes in almost as many versions as there are people.
How does your happiness affect your health?
A study at Carnegie Mellon University by psychology professor Sheldon Cohen found that individuals who displayed an over-all sense of well being and had a positive outlook on life were less likely to get as sick as individuals who were suffering from stress, depression or anxiety. In this study, the participants were given nose drops that contained a common influenza virus. The results showed that the “happy” people when exposed to the virus were less likely to get sick, suffered from fewer symptoms and were sick for a much shorter period of time.
The results of this study supports the idea that positive emotions boost your immune system and can help you fight off or lessen the severity of illnesses. Cohen stated in a press release, “We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk.”
Were you born happy?
Recent discovery of the 5-HTT or “happiness” gene indicates that genetics does play a certain role in our levels of overall satisfaction with life. So, in a sense, you can be born with a positive outlook on life. When a person inherits the 5-HTT gene from both parents your cells are better able to utilize the body chemical called serotonin.
Harvard scholar, Mr. De Neve states, “Of course, our well-being isn’t determined by this one gene – other genes and especially experience throughout the course of life will continue to explain the majority of variation in individual happiness.”
What really makes us happy?
Many people have dreams of happiness or goals they are working towards in the attempt to find happiness. But do we really know what will make us happy?
For many, the goal is financial freedom or wealth, but in truth, wealthy people are no happier than their less fortunate counterparts. Others seem to crave fame and popularity but if you look at the stars in Hollywood their behaviours would indicate that happiness is elusive to famous people too.
The truth is that true happiness comes not from our own achievements but from helping others. Studies have shown that acts of philanthropy give us a better sense of well-being than all of the other achievements we often set our sights on.
How to be happy and healthy
Since science has proven that positive emotions have a direct effect on our health, we need to find ways of improving our sense of well-being.
- Remove negativity from your life. Sometimes easier said than done, but negativity breeds negativity. If you tend to think of the glass as half empty instead of half full there are mental exercises you can do to help you switch your outlook on life from the negative to the positive. Start counting your blessings. If you shift the focus to the things in your life that are good, you will spend less time focused on the things that are bad. This simple adjustment can make a world of difference to your happiness levels. Being grateful and practicing gratitude on a daily basis causes a fundamental shift in brain activity leading to a positive realm.
- Take steps to become more physically fit. Studies have shown that even if a person is not at the peak of physical fitness, if they are taking action to move themselves toward that goal they have a better outlook on life.
- Reduce stress. One of the reasons people tend to think wealth will make us happy is because the lack of money can cause stress. The amount of stress and anxiety we suffer is directly associated with our sense of unhappiness. Stress is also known to cause illnesses. Taking steps to de-stress your life should be a priority. Learn to recognise what your stressors are and develop coping techniques to combat them.
- Do a good deed. As mentioned above, giving others a helping hand gives us the most happiness so be sure to include little acts of kindness in your daily routines. The happiness you receive as a result just may make you live longer!
Science has shown us that happiness is the number one key to a quality life and longevity. With the winter months ahead of us, and a statistical increase in more sullen moods as well as depression it is no coincidence that cold and flu season occur at this time of the year. Give your immune system a boost with a healthy dose of happiness.
Now that you know happiness has a direct impact on your wellbeing and longevity, what are you going to do?
Are you content with your current level of happiness or do you spend much more time focused on negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, hopelessness or even depression?
If you realize that your happiness needs a boost, then take out your pen and use the next ten minutes to start working on raising the happiness index in your life. Do it right now, there is no reason to wait. This is one of the most important areas of your life. Write down 10 areas of your life that you think can be changed in a way that will make you happier. Next, map out your strategies for how to get these things to become reality.
Once you have completed these steps, then commit to take the actions that you feel will help you the most. Every day for the next 30 days spend 5 minutes when you get up in the morning and 5 minutes before you go to bed at night reviewing your list and assessing your progress. After 30 days, you should be well on your way to a happier existence.