Happiness is more than just a good mood. It’s a state of well-being that encompasses your mental, physical, and social health.
People who are happy and optimistic tend to live healthier and longer lives. And while it might seem obvious that being without illness would make you happy, it may be more accurate to suggest it happens in the reverse direction—being happy may actually lead to better health.
The Harmful Effects of Negativity
Negative emotional states like anxiety, depression, and stress can harm your physical health.
Chronic stress, for example, is associated with an elevated risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, neurodegeneration, gastrointestinal issues, and many other conditions.
Negative emotions may also weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching an infection and taking longer to recover from illness.
Optimists Live Longer
A recent epidemiological study of over 70,000 individuals found that optimists were less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, tended to live 15% longer, and had significantly greater odds of living to 85 years old or beyond. These effects were independent of socioeconomic status and other demographic factors.
There are multiple possibilities suggested for why this is the case.
Optimistic people are more likely to care for their health and make healthier lifestyle choices. They tend to be more goal-oriented and have enough self-confidence to work toward those goals.
They’re also better able to cope with stress and bounce back from difficult situations. When faced with an illness or difficult life event, they can maintain a healthy regulation of their emotions. They might reframe the situation in a less stressful and manageable way. They might also be more willing to engage with their social support network and seek out professional help when necessary.
Becoming Happier and More Optimistic
You can learn to become more optimistic. Happiness and optimism are not fixed traits that you either have or lack—they’re states of mind that can be attained.
Here are some things you can practice to cultivate a happier and more positive outlook:
- Respond instead of react. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control your response. You don’t have to immediately react to everything that comes your way—give yourself some time to pause, breathe, and think before you take action.
- Feel instead of suffer. Pain is not the same as suffering. You can feel the sensations of pain without being overwhelmed by it. Try to observe your pains without attaching a depressing story to them. Look for a more helpful way to interpret your experience.
- Connect instead of withdraw. When you’re feeling down, isolating yourself and disconnecting from the people around you can be tempting. But this will only make you feel worse in the long run. Instead, try to reach out to others and connect with them. Talk about how you’re feeling—you might be surprised at how understanding and supportive they can be.
- Give instead of take. Being happy doesn’t mean you always get everything you want. Happiness is often more about what you give than what you have. Put a smile on someone else’s face, and you’ll likely find one on yours as well.
- Move instead of sit. Exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve your mood. It releases endorphins, reduces stress, and improves sleep—all of which can help boost your mood and outlook on life.
- Cope instead of dwell. When you feel stressed, anxious, or unhappy, it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with those emotions. Don’t try to bottle them up, ignore them, or hang onto them. Instead, find an activity that helps you relax and de-stress, such as creative art, meditation, or spending time in nature.
If you’re struggling with negative moods and pessimistic outlooks, don’t hesitate to seek out professional help. A therapist can provide you with support and guidance as you work on making positive changes in your life.