Can cultivating happiness actually make you healthier?
According to well-established research on the connection between the mind and body, the answer is a resounding yes. Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology indicates that our mood and life outlook has a significant impact on our physical health. Reduced happiness not only results from poor health, but is also a potential contributor to disease risk.
The Impact of Happiness on Health
A positive outlook on life is associated with reduced mortality, enhanced immunity, and engaging in healthier lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise. In addition to a host of other benefits, people who report higher levels of happiness also slept deeper and showed lower levels of cortisol and inflammation. Being happy may also protect your heart, lengthen life expectancy, and reduce pain.
Furthermore, research indicates that mood can impact the body’s ability to respond to viruses. In one study, older adults who reported greater mood disturbance (anger, fatigue, confusion) had poorer cytokine responses to live virus, whereas those who reported greater vigor and optimism had greater cytokine responses.
How to Create a Happier Life
Happiness encompasses feelings of joy and pleasure, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and life satisfaction. Here are 7 ways to increase happiness in your life:
- Connect with people you love. This could be a phone call, a text, or Facetime if connecting in person isn’t an option.
- Engage fully. Research by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly suggests that people report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.
- Laugh more. Studies show that the more you laugh, the healthier you are. Intentionally surround yourself with whoever and whatever makes you laugh, whether that includes friends and family or funny cat videos on the internet.
- Express gratitude. If you don’t already have one, start a gratitude journal and write down five specific things that you’re grateful for today.
- Get outside. Being in nature boosts mental and physical well-being. Schedule a 30-minute walk and be present to the sights and sounds around you.
- Serve someone. Be kind to someone. Share uplifting words. Volunteer. Taking care of others provides a sense of purpose and increases life satisfaction.
- Know what won’t make you happy. Humans can be bad at judging what makes them happy. Research shows that money and material things, youth, and having children are common misconceptions in this category.
Identify what brings you true happiness and make time in your schedule for it. Prioritizing happiness may just be one of the best things you can do for your health!