Obviously, being happy feels better than being unhappy.
But these emotional feelings are not just in your head; they are connected to physical states of well-being.
Happiness can be a good predictor of good health outcomes. People who report higher rates of happiness also tend to report more minor illnesses and might even live a little bit longer than people who are generally unhappy or less happy.
Happy Because You Are Healthy, Or Healthy Because You Are Happy?
It’s easy to look at the correlation between health and happiness and jump to an explanation, “People are happy ‘because’ they are healthy, and unhealthiness ‘causes’ unhappiness.”
But the causality might be happening in the other direction.
Chronic stress, depression, negative moods, and their biochemical consequences can increase the risk for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegeneration, gastrointestinal issues, and reduced immune function.
On the other hand, happiness and positive moods may help your immune system.
In two studies, adult volunteers were assessed for their emotional style: positive (happy, lively, calm) or negative (anxious, hostile, depressed). Then they were intentionally exposed – in controlled and consensual conditions – to nasal drops of rhinovirus (common cold) and influenza virus and monitored in quarantine for signs of illness and self-reported symptoms.
Positive emotional styles were consistently associated with a lower risk for developing an upper respiratory illness and fewer reported symptoms.
Happiness can also make it easier to engage in and sustain healthy choices and habits for overall health and longevity.
A Few Tips For Increasing Happiness
No matter how you feel today or what you are going through, you can change, grow, and get better.
Separate what is happening to you from how you react to it. You might not have much control over your surroundings, but you do have some control over how you interpret and react to events. Look for ways to conceptualize the situation in a positive light.
Separate pain from suffering. You can notice and feel painful sensations without suffering and becoming overwhelmed or depressed by them. Be mindful of your body and mind, and see if you can distinguish the physical feelings of pain from your emotional state.
Discover new strategies for dealing with stress. Instead of trying to evade your problems with drugs, alcohol, unhealthy foods, or other distractions, develop coping methods that include things like deep breathing, physical activity, socializing with friends, meditation, therapy, or going out into nature.
Connect with your community. Spend more time with your friends and family. Share experiences. Meet new people. Practice a hobby that involves other people, like sports, dancing, or collaborative art. Give back to your community, donate resources or volunteer your time, energy, or expertise.
Happiness is accessible to everyone. You can find joy in the smallest things, like taking a walk, reading an engrossing book, cooking dinner for your family.
You might not find happiness accidentally, and making changes might not be easy, especially when you are depressed, but even the smallest steps can help you discover happiness within yourself.