Are Happiness and Health Linked?

Happiness is good. In fact, an ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”  

And even as centuries have passed, those words still ring true today. They say that laughter is the best medicine and even research seems to back up that your level of happiness can impact your health and vice versa.

Let’s dive into how and why this is so.

 

The Science Behind Happiness

 

There is growing evidence that physical activity may be pertinent to happiness across a person’s lifespan.

A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health measured physical activity and happiness in young, middle-aged and older adults. Individuals with high and moderate activity levels reported significantly higher happiness levels than inactive participants, regardless of their age group. 

According to Dr Francoise Adan, director of the Connor Integrative Health Network of University Hospitals in Cleveland said: “Being happy doesn’t just make us feel better, it improves our health. It helps us eat healthier, be more active and sleep better.”

Adan recommends carrying out random acts of kindness and staying connected with your loved ones to keep your spirits high. Doing some good in other people’s lives will immediately give you a sense of satisfaction and make you happy, while knowing you are loved by the people around you gives you security.

According to an article by Mia Primeau, “Research shows that mindsets play a significant role in determining life’s outcomes.” Therefore an optimistic mindset will not only make you a happier person, it helps you achieve the goals you set for your life. Therefore, being more aware of what you “feed” your brain with is very important for your emotional well being.

 

The Benefits of Happiness on Health

Now that we understand how happiness works a little better, let’s see how it affects our health!

 

Happiness boosts your immune system

Research has shown that being happier leads to a stronger immune system. With this, happier people are able to fight off infections and diseases easier than their less happy counterparts. That is why in most cases, doctors would always remind us not to stress out or aggravate people who are ill. Instead, we would always be reminded to keep patients calm and relaxed.

It may be due to the impact of happiness on the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates your immune system, hormones, digestion and stress levels. 

Happy people are also more likely to take part in health-promoting behaviours that play a role in keeping the immune system strong. These include healthy eating habits and regular physical activity. They also carry themselves with positive attitudes and mindsets.

 

Improves heart health

Happiness may also reduce blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. When you are stressed out, it is not unusual that your blood pressure will spike. The more often that happens, the higher the risk for heart disease is for you.

It appears that happiness may also help protect people who already have heart disease. A systematic review of 30 studies found that greater positive well-being in adults with established heart disease lowered the risk of death by 11%

 

Happiness improves longevity

 

Happiness can also be linked to having a longer life. In a global survey reported on the United Nations World Happiness Report 2023, Singapore is ranked the happiest country in Asia (25th in the world). The report was determined through data collected by Gallup World Poll and part of the factors that determined the happiness score is health life expectancy.

With a report stating that Singaporean’s life expectancy has risen to 84 years on average, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that happiness and longer life expectancy can be linked.

 

Ways to Lead a Happier Life

There are many factors that contribute to one’s sense of happiness. Some people might also be genetically predisposed to being happier, but there are some factors that you can control. Let’s explore these simple ways to conjure up happiness.

 

Get regular exercise

Most experts advise that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Any kind of aerobic exercise provides a mood boost and improves cardiovascular health directly in the process.

Mindful-based exercises like yoga, meditation, or qigong are all easy to learn and accessible anywhere. It’s a great way to combat stress and improve your overall outlook and has been shown to have heart benefits and lower blood pressure.

 

Sleeping well

Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your mood and health. Getting seven to nine hours of quality, restful sleep benefits your overall mood and outlook and gives your body some much-needed restoration and repair.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, here are some tips: make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing. Be consistent and try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning. 

Consider removing electronic devices from your bedroom too, such as TVs, laptops, computers, and smartphones. Not only is it bad for your eyes, they also disrupt your sleep and can contribute to poor sleeping patterns.

 

Eat healthily

Eating healthier means reducing your intake of saturated fats, red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and overly-processed food in general.

Instead, consider building a diet around fruits, vegetables, wholegrain rice and pasta, beans, and legumes. Adding in low-fat dairy and lean proteins like fish, and healthy fats like those found in healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil and canola oil will also do great for your overall health, which will contribute to your emotional well-being as well.

Eating healthily not only helps you stay fit, it also promotes “feel good” emotions as you are more aware of the benefits of everything that goes into your body.

 

 

While there’s still much to be learned about what it means to be happy and how and when it affects your health, indications are that a happier mind helps lead to a happier heart. Why not take every day as a step closer to being a happier and healthier you? It’s the little things that will help you live a long and fulfilling life.