HAPPINESS MAKES YOU HEALTHY: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE

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For two months, 30 male dental students took pills containing a harmless blood protein from rabbits, which causes an immune response in humans. They also rated whether they had experienced various positive moods that day.

On days when they were happier, participants had a better immune response, as measured by the presence of an antibody in their saliva that defends against foreign substances. Stress is not only upsetting on a psychological level but also triggers biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure. Happiness seems to temper these effects, or at least help us recover more quickly.

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In the study mentioned above, where participants rated their happiness more than 30 times in a day, researchers also found associations between happiness and stress. The happiest participants had 23 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the least happy, and another indicator of stress—the level of a blood-clotting protein that increases after stress—was 12 times lower.

Happiness also seems to carry benefits even when stress is inevitable.


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In a study , some diabolically cruel researchers decided to stress out psychology students and see how they reacted. The students were led to a soundproof chamber, where they first answered questions indicating whether they generally felt 10 feelings like enthusiasm or pride. Then came their worst nightmare: They had to answer an exceedingly difficult statistics question while being videotaped, and they were told that their professor would evaluate their response. Throughout the process, their heart was measured with an electrocardiogram EKG machine and a blood pressure monitor.

In the wake of such stress, the hearts of the happiest students recovered most quickly. A study asked participants to rate their recent experience of positive emotions, then five weeks later how much they had experienced negative symptoms like muscle strain, dizziness, and heartburn since the study began. People who reported the highest levels of positive emotion at the beginning actually became healthier over the course of the study, and ended up healthier than their unhappy counterparts.

An Attitude of Gratitude

A study suggests that positive emotion also mitigates pain in the context of disease. Women with arthritis and chronic pain rated themselves weekly on positive emotions like interest, enthusiasm, and inspiration for about three months. Over the course of the study, those with higher ratings overall were less likely to experience increases in pain. Happiness is associated with improvements in more severe, long-term conditions as well, not just shorter-term aches and pains.

In a study of nearly 10, Australians, participants who reported being happy and satisfied with life most or all of the time were about 1. Another study in the same year found that women with breast cancer recalled being less happy and optimistic before their diagnosis than women without breast cancer, suggesting that happiness and optimism may be protective against the disease.

What are the Benefits of Happiness?

As adults become elderly, another condition that often afflicts them is frailty, which is characterized by impaired strength, endurance, and balance and puts them at risk of disability and death. In a study, over 1, Mexican Americans ages 65 and older rated how much self-esteem, hope, happiness, and enjoyment they felt over the past week. After seven years, the participants with more positive emotion ratings were less likely to be frail. Some of the same researchers also found that happier elderly people by the same measure of positive emotion were less likely to have a stroke in the subsequent six years; this was particularly true for men.

In the end, the ultimate health indicator might be longevity—and here, especially, happiness comes into play. In perhaps the most famous study of happiness and longevity, the life expectancy of Catholic nuns was linked to the amount of positive emotion they expressed in an autobiographical essay they wrote upon entering their convent decades earlier, typically in their 20s. Researchers combed through these writing samples for expressions of feelings like amusement, contentment, gratitude, and love.

In the end, the happiest-seeming nuns lived a whopping years longer than the least happy.

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In a study , almost 4, English adults ages reported how happy, excited, and content they were multiple times in a single day. Here, happier people were 35 percent less likely to die over the course of about five years than their unhappier counterparts.

A meta-analysis , aggregating the results of other studies on health and happiness, speculates that experiencing positive emotion is helpful in diseases with a long timeline but could actually be harmful in late-stage disease. The authors cite studies showing that positive emotion lowers the risk of death in people with diabetes and AIDS , but actually increases the risk in people with metastatic breast cancer , early-stage melanoma , and end-stage kidney disease.

Discover the secret to a happy life. Listen to Sonja Lyubomirsky on the myths of happiness. Discover a better way to pursue happiness. As the science of happiness and health matures, researchers are trying to determine what role, if any, happiness actually plays in causing health benefits. For example, a new study suggests that we should look not just at life satisfaction levels but life satisfaction variability : Researchers found that low life satisfaction with lots of fluctuations—i.

All that said, the study of the health benefits of happiness is still young. It will take time to figure out the exact mechanisms by which happiness influences health, and how factors like social relationships and exercise fit in.

Cultivating Happiness

But in the meantime, it seems safe to imagine that a happier you will be healthier, too. Kira M. Breathing makes you happier Every yoga practice incorporates some elements of focusing on the breath to invigorate or relax.

Research has shown that the ability to become aware of and regulate the breath is key in terms of lowering stress and anchoring oneself in the moment--both of which are needed to feel happier. Although you could do the breathing exercises without the yoga , pairing the two together is a guaranteed happiness-booster.

Straighten your mood Did you know that your posture is related to your mood? It is, and although we tend to think of sadness as causing slumping rather than vice-versa, it turns out that changing your posture can change your mood. Yoga of all types strengthens that brain-body connection where the body sends messages to the brain that make it feel strong and positive, so don't wait to lengthen your spine and stand up straight! Subscribe to our weekly email to get practical tips and inspiration to help you feel more joyful and resilient. Start Here. By Nataly Kogan How yoga can actually make you happier.

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