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Happiness is good for your Health!  

You may have heard it said before that happiness is good for your health, but did you know that happy doctors may be even crucial! A study has shown that doctors experiencing positive emotion tend to make more accurate diagnoses (Isen , 1993). 

This is not the only interesting fact I have to present to you.  In 1998 Positive Psychology was officially launched as a new field of study and since then there has been an explosion of research into the science of wellbeing. 
You might find some of the findings surprising:

  • Optimistic people are less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists (Giltay et al., 2004);

  • The flu vaccine is twice as effective in people who are rated as happy by psychologists (Davidson et al., 2003);

  • Women who displayed genuine or ‘Duchenne smiles’ (where the corners of the mouth turn up and the skin around the eyes crinkles) in their year book photographs at eighteen go on to have fewer divorces and better marriages than those who display false smiles (Harker and Keltner, 2001);

  • The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson et al., 2005);

  • Happy teenagers go on to earn substantially more at fifteen years follow-up than less happy teenagers (Diener et al., 2002);

  • Self-discipline is twice as good a predictor of high school grades as IQ (Duckworth and Seligman, 2005); and

  • Positive moods improve problem-solving and creativity (Fredrickson, 2003).

  • Happiness promotes physical wellbeing and strengthens the immune system (Seligman et al., 2009).

So if you agree that happiness is important for a health and wellbeing, how do we become happier?  Are we genetically disposed to a certain level of happiness?  Are we born looking at the glass half empty or the glass half full?  To answer this question, we again turn to research.  

Studies have shown that 50% of our happiness levels may be genetically determined and 10% are influenced by circumstances.  This leaves a balance of 40% of our happiness which can be influenced by intentional activities, in other words, by our own efforts, thoughts and behaviour (Lyubomisky, 2007; Sheldon and Lyubomirsky, 2006).

So what are these intentional activities?  Research is confirming that we can increase or decrease our feelings of wellbeing by our own conscious efforts and activities such as:

  • Practicing positive thinking and optimism

  • Investing in social connections and relationships;

  • Mindfulness, or living in the present;

  • Improving our health and physical fitness;

  • Committing to personal goals; and

  • Effectively managing stress, hardships and trauma.

Sonja Lyubomirsky (2007) tells us that unhappy people can become happier by ‘learning the habits of happy people’.  Happiness is a state of mind, and while we may not be able to change our genetic inheritance or our circumstances, we can change the way we think.  Altering our perspective can change the way we feel and behave.

So what are the Happiness Habits we might include as part of our everyday life?  The following suggestions have been proven to be effective in increasing levels of happiness and wellbeing in those that practice them:

  • Gratitude – we’ve all heard about the Gratitude Journal – well, it works!  Just write down 3 things you are grateful for each day – the trick is to try to list different things each day. 

  • Positive Reminiscence – remembering the happy times is really good for you.  Just try it.  Get out an old photograph album of happy times or spend a few minutes writing about some really happy days you have experienced and just notice those happy endorphins!

  • Mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment increases happiness.  One of the ways it does this is by helping us to appreciate the magic of the moment, and also it helps us to stop worrying about the past or the future.  Read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.

  • Kindness – Random Acts of Kindness are good for the receiver, but they are also incredibly good for the giver who gets what is known as ‘helper’s high’.  Researchers at the University of California asked students to perform five random acts of kindness each week for 6 weeks.  Results showed that participants experienced a significant increase in happiness (Sheldon and Lyubomirsky, 2004). 

  • Optimism – practice looking for the silver lining!

  • Embark on a new project or hobby.  This is another great mood booster.

So why not give one or two of the above suggestions a try – what have you got to lose?  And remember, next time you visit a doctor, look out for that all-important smile! 

Sharon Murphy is a Reflexologist and Positive Psychology Practitioner.  She lives in The Rower, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.  She offers one-to-one sessions and workshops in Reflexology and Positive Psychology.  She can be contacted at 051-423957 or 087-9305591, or by email at Sharon@TrueBlueTherapies.com.

 

References

Davidson, R.  J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., et al (2003).  Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation.  Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.

Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Oishi, S. (2002).  Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and life satisfaction.  In C. R. Snyder & S. J. lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005).  Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents.  Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003).  The value of positive emotions.  American Scientist, 91, 330-335.

Giltay, E. J., Geleijnse, J. M., Zitman, F. G., Hoekstra, T., & Schouten, E. G. (2004).  Dispositional optimism and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in a prospective cohort of elderly Dutch men and women.  Arch Gen Psychiatry, 61, 1126-1135.

Harker, L., & Keltner, D. (2001).  Expressions of positive emotion in women’s college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 112-124.

Isen, A. (1993).  Positive affect and decision making.  In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (eds.), The Handbook of Emotion. New York: The Guliform Press.

Lyubormirsky, S. (2007).  The hos of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want.  New York: Penguin.

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005).  Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25-41.

Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K. & Linkins, M. (2009).  Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions.  Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.

Sheldon, K. M. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006).  Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 55-86.

 

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