Learned happiness

by Judith Coulson-Geissmann
Life is good

There are very few people who would say they wouldn’t like to be happier, and it’s easy to see why. The feeling of happiness is a wonderful experience, emotionally and mentally, and it makes sense that we’d want to create more of that in our lives.

Research is showing that bringing more happiness into your life has far more benefits than merely feeling good. Read on to find out more about what they are.

What are the benefits of happiness?

It was Aristotle who once said “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and the end of human existence” – a sentiment that is still true today. While Aristotle had a philosophical notion of the importance of happiness for human wellbeing, today we have a range of science and research to back it up. Scientific studies have begun to reveal a host of physical health benefits surrounding happiness including a stronger immune system, stronger resilience in the face of stress, a stronger heart and less risk of cardiovascular disease, alongside quicker recovery times when overcoming illness or surgery. There is even a body of research that indicates being happy may help us to live longer lives.

Be happy

Most interesting scientific findings

Perhaps some of the most interesting scientific findings looking at the impact of happiness is around the connection to life longevity. A number of studies have looked at the connection between positive emotions – including happiness – and life expectancy. A longitudinal study spanning 13 years conducted by Carstensen et al (2011) found that emotional experience (positive or negative) predicted mortality. Participants in the study who reported more positive over negative emotions in everyday life were more likely to have survived the length of the study.

Further research seeking to explore the connection found similar results:

Lawrence, Rogers & Wadsworth (2015) explored the impact of happiness on 32,000 participants and their survival rate over a 30 year period. Participants who were rated the least happy had a 14% higher chance of death than their happiest counterparts. A quantitative review of 70 observational studies explored the link between positive affect (wellbeing) and life expectancy, in both healthy participants and participants who had already been diagnosed with a health condition. Healthy participants who were rated as having a higher positive affect reduced their risk of death by 18%, and by 2% for those with a pre-existing condition (Chida & Steptoe, 2008).

A further study exploring this connection also indicates that it is the consistency of life satisfaction (or happiness) that has an impact on life longevity. Boehm et al (2015) found that participants who reported a low sense of life satisfaction with a high level of variability (meaning they went through high and low phases) were more likely to die early than participants who reported a consistently low sense of satisfaction. Researchers have speculated over why this link seems to exist, and why it is so prominent for participants who rate the highest for happiness and positive emotions. Many believe it is because individuals who are happiest, are also more inclined to engage in activities and behaviours that are positive for their overall health, including physical exercise, eating healthy, not smoking, sleeping well, and even meditation (Strine et al, 2008 )

6 proven health benefits of happiness

With so much research showing the multiple positive benefits for our health when we’re happy, here are the top six proven health benefits:

1. Improved heart health Several studies have linked happiness with improved heart health and lower risk of heart disease by 13-26%

2. Ability to combat stress more effectively Excess stress causes higher levels of cortisol – the stress hormone – which can lead to a number of health conditions. Multiple studies have found that individuals who are happier have consistently lower cortisol levels in their blood.

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3. A stronger immune system Some research has indicated that being happier can support a strong immune system, leading to greater health all round, and the ability to fight infections or disease more effectively.

4. Overall healthier lifestyle Happiness has also been linked to several positive and highly beneficial health habits, that promote a greater sense of wellbeing. This includes eating a healthier diet, engaging in more physical activity, and overcome poor sleeping habits.

5. Can help reduce pain Researchers believe that individuals who are happier, have a better perspective and are able to accept new thoughts easily, which can lead to a lower experience of pain especially connected to chronic conditions such as arthritis.

6. Increased life longevity One of the most interesting finds from the research for health benefits of happiness is its connection with life longevity. Researchers believe that because of the impact happiness has on all of the above health benefits, it can ultimately help you live a longer life.

The research examining the connection between happiness and positive health benefits is still relatively new, and more research is continuing to emerge. That being said, it certainly seems from the current data that working on being happier will have plenty of health benefits.

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5 things you can do to realise these benefits in your life

Trying to feel happier in life might seem like a mammoth task to take on, but it doesn’t have to be. A few simple practices each day have been proven to help you realise and begin to reap the benefits of happiness:

1. Practice gratitude  It’s easy to complain when things go wrong or you get stuck in the rut of thinking ‘why has this happened to me’ when you have a bad day but practicing gratitude can help tackle that and improve feelings of happiness. Simply writing down three things you feel grateful for before bed can work wonders on your mindset.

2. Incorporate some movement Exercise releases endorphins, which have a direct impact on our mood – in a good way! Adding in some aerobic exercise is proven to be effective in increasing feelings of happiness. This doesn’t have to be hitting the gym, it could be as simple as putting on your favourite music and dancing in the living room.

3. Get back in touch with nature Combine your aerobic exercise with nature and you’ll be onto something good. Spending time outdoors has been proven to aid our moods. A good walk or run in a local park or woods or some gardening can spark some wonderful benefits.

4. Practice mindfulness Incorporating mindfulness can help you create better awareness for your everyday feelings, and let go of negative experiences, allowing for more room to appreciate positive experiences and emotions.

5. Spend time with loved ones Socialising with friends and loved ones have many health benefits, including feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Making time for coffee with friends, or quality time with family members is a great way to realise the benefits of happiness.

About the author: Judith Coulson-Geissmann is a Positive Psychologist and Coach, Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist and Nutrition and Lifestyle Consultant. If you would like to learn how to increase your happiness contact: judith@positive-psychology-coach.com or join https://www.facebook.com/groups/positivepsychologycoach/

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