Happy Makes You Healthy

New study shows that happiness is powerful medicine.

October 6, 2008

Put on a happy face: happiness can make you healthier.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—People who say they’re happy and satisfied with their lives tend to be healthier, according to study published this month in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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THE DETAILS: A team of Australian and U.S. Researchers analyzed the results of two surveys of about 10,000 adults: First, the subjects were asked how happy they were; two years later, their health status was assessed. They found that the people who said they were satisfied with life were twice as likely to report good, very good, or excellent health in the later survey.

WHAT IT MEANS: Happiness—what the researchers call “positive affect”—may promote health because it reduces stress on your body. “Positive affect, in general, is related to health because it reduces neuroendocrine, inflammatory, and cardiovascular activities, which are associated with better health,” says study author Mohammad Siahpush, PhD, professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Positive affect also relates to resilience and enhanced ability to cope with problems.” In other words, a good mood is good medicine, with no co-pay or side effects.

How do you get happier? Studies on the subject suggest these strategies tend to boost personal happiness:

• Say thanks. Take time write thank-you messages to mentors, coaches, grandparents, and others who helped shape your life. Once you’re finished, read it to them—you’ll feel happy for up to a month. Martin Seligman, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center and author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (Free Press, 2002), calls expressing gratitude the single most important thing you can do to rev up your happiness.

• Play to your strengths. Pick something you’re great at and use that strength in a different way every day for a week. For example, if you’re great entrepreneur, help a neighbor kid start an organic lemonade stand. If you’re a fabulous cook, get creative in the kitchen with food theme nights, and invite family and friends to enjoy.

• Keep a good record. Every day, write down three good things that happened, and why they happened. It’ll only take a few minutes, and the positive effect on your mood will last for days.