Being happier doesn’t just make you feel better—it actually brings a host of potential health benefits
By Barbara Pierce
There is strong evidence that positive well-being can influence your health, leading to a healthier, higher-quality, and longer life. Having general satisfaction with your life impacts your health in so many good ways.
New research shows that being happier just doesn’t make you feel better — it actually brings a host of potential health benefits.
Positive well-being means you feel good about what’s happening in your life, you feel a sense of connection to others around you and your life has meaning to you. It’s similar to happiness.
Whatever you call it—positive well-being, happiness, optimism—research shows that people with this characteristic have a better immune system, less chronic pain, lower blood pressure, are unlikely to experience a fatal accident and have a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease.
This makes sense as having a positive sense of well-being promotes a range of lifestyle habits that are important for overall health. Positive people tend to eat healthier diets, with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They are more likely to be physically active and have better sleep. Positive people are more likely to be living with a partner and experience less hopelessness and loneliness.
Also, there is a large body of research showing that happiness is related to a stronger immune system, including a higher likelihood of recovering quickly from illness and disease.
A healthy immune system is important for overall health. This reduces your risk of developing colds and infections. In one study, the least happy people were almost three times as likely to develop a common cold compared to their happier counterparts.
Also, happy people are more likely to take part in health-promoting behaviors that play a role in keeping the immune system strong.
People with a positive outlook tend to produce lower levels of the hormone cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. High levels of cortisol can cause weight gain, disturbed sleep, and high blood pressure.
Prolonged stress, causing high levels of cortisol can speed up the progression of certain diseases. Therefore, positive thinking is a key part of effective stress management.
Research shows that those with a largely positive mood are better able to cope with chronic pain. This makes sense when you consider that pain is something we experience on both an emotional and physical level. It’s a distinctly sensory event that causes emotional responses of fear and anxiety.
When pain strikes, having a positive disposition has been shown to improve resilience, increase tolerance to pain and help one live a high-quality life despite chronic pain.
How to grow positive well-being
If you tend to be a pessimist, don’t despair. Here are some strategies to help you develop positive thinking skills. You can develop these skills over time, just like you can develop any other skill.
• Listen to how you talk to yourself. Periodically, stop and assess what you’re thinking. If your thoughts are mainly negative, this will directly affect how you feel and your motivation.
• Practice positive self-talk. Treat yourself like you would a friend. Be gentle and encouraging. Look closer at your negative thoughts and respond with affirmations about what you’re doing right.
• Focus on what you can have versus what you can’t. For example, to eat in a healthier way, look at all the foods you can eat versus all the foods you can’t. It’s hard to stay motivated when you feel deprived.
• Let go of negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean ignoring them. Rather, reevaluate your response to focus on positive feelings and accomplishments.
• Have a purpose. We all want our lives to feel like they matter. It can be tricky, though, to figure out what gives your life purpose. By exploring what matters to you and taking action to put it in your life, your life will become more meaningful and satisfying.
• Develop connections. Build strong relationships with family and friends. Make connections within your community. Healthy relationships strongly predict both mental and physical well-being.
• Experience gratitude. Gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation are strongly and consistently associated with a greater sense of positive well-being. Notice and appreciate what is valuable to you, notice the simple pleasures of every day.
If you’re interested in determining your level of well-being, Berkelywellbeing.com offers a free quiz which gives you your well-being profile and suggests how you can increase your positive well-being.