Being happy not only mean you feel satisfied, content or optimistic, some research suggests being happy may actually impact your overall health.
The exact definition and measurement of happiness can vary, but in general it is considered a sense of well being and satisfaction.
There are many factors that can influence happiness: genetics, environment, stress, etc. Some factors, like genetics, we may not be able to control, but of course there are aspects we can control for our own happiness.
Besides an improved mood and outlook on life, being happy may be associated with protecting against cardiovascular disease, lowering risk for disability in elderly years and may help strengthen the immune system.
More research is needed between the link of happiness and health, as some studies are only observational meaning they don’t determine causality.
For example, people who feel happy may also exercise more or follow a healthy diet which may be the reason being happy is associated with some health benefits.
Regardless of the cause, being happy has been associated with the following health benefits. It may, at least in some part, be mind of matter.
Protect against cardiovascular disease
A 2012 review (1) looked at the association between positive psychological well being and cardiovascular disease. Researchers found consistent results that positive psychological well being protected against cardiovascular disease independent of other risk factors.
In an April 2015 TIME article (2) researcher Dr. Laura Kubzansky from Harvard School of Public Health suggests people who are happy may have an easier time maintaining healthy lifestyle habits like daily exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep at night.
This may attribute to why positive well being is associated with protecting against cardiovascular disease. It’s not as simple as “just feel happy and you won’t get a heart attack”, but rather over all happiness may help you maintain a healthy lifestyle that translates to heart health.
Being happy may also help lower blood pressure levels which can also lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
Dopamine is a hormone that is considered a “feel good” hormone. In general, when dopamine is released, we feel good.
According to Science Daily (3), Swiss researchers have found dopamine may help lower blood pressure.
Therefore, “feeling good” from dopamine release may be one reason happiness can be associated with lower blood pressure.
A 2005 study (4) also found happiness was inversely related to blood pressure.
Boost immune system
There may be a relationship between feeling happy and risk for getting sick. A 2003 study found when people had more positive emotions were exposed to a common cold virus, they were less likely to catch a cold compared to people with more negative emotions (5).
A 2006 study (6) found people who were considered to have a positive affect showed higher levels of antibodies after vaccination compared to those with a negative affect.
Having high antibody presence after a vaccination is considered one sign of immune strength. Therefore, this study suggests feeling positive or happy may help boost immune defense levels.
More research needs to be done to understand the relationship between feeling happy and immune health. Of course, just being positive doesn’t mean you will never get sick.
However, positivity may add extra protection from getting sick.
Protect against limited mobility and impairment in later years
Happiness has been associated with longer survival and lowered risk of serious illness.
Researchers from a 2014 study (7) wanted to examine the relationship between being happy and risk for limited mobility and impairment.
Researchers gathered data from 3,199 men and women over 60 years of age for 8 years. Researchers found participants who had low enjoyment of life were more likely to have two or more impaired daily life activities compared to people who had high enjoyment of life.
Researchers from this study note this is not a causal association, as it is an observational study. Maintaining a certain level of happiness may help protect against impairment later in life.
An article from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley suggests other studies have found similar results: those who were happier in life were less likely to have long term health conditions and that happiness may help lower risk for certain chronic diseases.
While having a joyful disposition doesn’t make you immune to pain, it may help pain perception in certain instances.
Some research suggests having positive emotions may help lessen pain associated with chronic conditions like arthritis.
According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, over the course of a 2005 study, those with higher ratings of positivity were less likely to experience increases in pain.
Another study found those with the highest level of positive emotions had less symptoms of pains associated with muscle strains or heart burn.
Conclusion: Why it is healthy to be happy?
Many research studies have shown an association between being happy and health benefits. The measurements of happiness can vary from positive emotions, optimism, etc.
Researchers are still clarifying how feeling happy can impact different aspects of health. It could be the lifestyle behaviors associated with being happy and lowered stress, like incorporating exercise habits and adequate sleep, may contribute to health benefits.
Happiness has been associated with lowered blood pressure, lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, bossting immune health, and may even lower risk for impairment later in life.
Being happy or positive may also lessen pain symptoms associated with some chronic conditions.
Being happy can be from a variety of things you can control, like your attitude, to things you can’t control like genetics. Disease risk can also have many factors.
No one is suggesting being happy all the time will make you immune from negative health issues. However, it just may help you lower risk and may be associated with some benefits besides seeing the glass as half full.