Happiness is Good For You
When Aristotle said that happiness is the meaning of human existence, he might have been on to something. New efforts in medical research seem to suggest that happiness plays a very active role in people living longer, healthier lives. A recent study has reported that the elderly may be up to 35% less likely to die if they feel happy. The paper publishing these results joins a rich body of scholarly work that has reached similar conclusions. How do subjective emotions affect our physical body systems? You ask. Well, there are a number of different reasons and they all point to our psychological health having a huge impact on our physical health.
For one, the amount of the hormone cortisol fluctuates in the body according to stress factors, which can be strong indicators of emotional well-being. Cortisol helps to stabilize blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and the breaking down of fats. An excess amount of cortisol can have many negative effects on a person’s health. High cortisol levels have even been shown to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and unhealthy blood vessels.
Happiness affects the composition of other chemicals in our bodies too. "Happy people" (meaning people who report feeling happy most of the time) tend to have higher levels of pregnenolone, oxytocin, norepinephrine, and endorphins, all of which help to balance various systems in the body. Studies have also shown that happy people usually have lower levels of the blood protein fibrinogen, which prevents the clotting associated with certain heart diseases.
Happiness seems to have a substantial impact on energy levels and immune system functions too. In fact, additional studies on the subject have shown that happy people tend to exhibit fewer symptoms of viruses and the common cold. While it may not be effective 100% of the time, it’s nice to think that you can fight infections with nothing more than a smile. Either way, we can be confident that our state of mind has a much stronger effect on our physical well-being than previously thought.
Interestingly, good health has been shown to boost seratonin and endorphin levels and lead to more positive thought cycles. Exercise in particular has been proven to be a major catalyst in the production of nearly every chemical that creates feelings of well-being. So it’s a two-way street. Not only does happiness lead to better health, better health leads to happiness. This is a cycle we could all get used to.