The happiness-health connection
Could the key to better health be as simple as being happy? We wanted to find out.
“Happy and healthy do go hand in hand,” says Dr. Janette Nesheiwat. “Being happy decreases stress [and] reduces cortisol levels, which can reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.”
In fact, one study concluded that positive emotions can not only help make our lives healthier, but can also make them longer. The key is to not just have fleeting positive emotions, but to adopt a positive outlook more long-term to ultimately reduce our stress levels.
Nesheiwat explains happiness is more than just a state of mind.
“It can affect us physically, mentally and emotionally. Being happy can boost your immune system, help reduce pain and even show better outcomes in battling disease,” she says. “In addition, a positive attitude and mindset leads to positive behaviours.”
Now, being happy may sound simple, but for many of us, it’s actually rather difficult to ditch negativity and adopt a more positive outlook. Our outlook on life is an intrinsic part of us and changing it won’t happen overnight. But it starts with a choice: Choose to be happier. Choose to be more positive.
“Happy hormones, i.e. serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, when in balance, can lead to significant life changes,” Nesheiwat says.
So how do we cultivate more happiness?
“Our body loves routine,” she says. “Healthy habits and routine are key – exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing, engaging in hobbies, reading, socializing with others, engaging in healthy relationships, eating foods fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.”
And taking part in activities that promote happiness has a ripple effect throughout our lives, she explains.
“[They] can strengthen many aspects of our lives: our confidence, concentration, decision making, [and can give us a] sense of fulfilment.”
Negativity, on the other hand, can create anxiety, lead to depression, increase our cortisol (stress hormone) levels and deplete our brains of those happy hormones, Nesheiwat says. “[This] can shorten our life span, cause fatigue, weakness and may weaken our immune system.”
Two quick tips for cultivating happiness
- Follow the old adage of laughter being the best medicine and laugh as often as you can!
- In positive psychology research, gratitude has been consistently linked to higher levels of happiness.
A simple way to get started with practising gratitude is by taking note of something you are grateful for every day. You can simply say it out loud before you fall asleep or when you wake up. Or you can take it up a notch and start keeping a gratitude journal. Every day, write down one thing you are grateful for – it can be anything! Your health, your home, your children, today’s sunset, your loving pet, the fact that your presentation at work went well. As you keep the practice going, you’ll likely find you have more than one thing to write down. Recognizing what you have to be thankful for is an easy way to feel more positive about your life and, dare we say it, be happier.