Laughter may really be the best medicine after all! A growing body of research is providing more and more evidence to support a powerful link between levels of happiness and overall health. Positive thinking individuals may be more likely to take better care of themselves and make better lifestyle choices, but researchers believe that positive thinking itself may have a direct biological impact. Here are just a few reasons to smile:
- Research has shown that people who rate higher in happiness are less likely to catch a cold than unhappy people. If they do catch a cold, happy people report fewer symptoms than unhappy people.
- A recent study by the American Heart Association revealed that adults over 50 who were more optimistic had a dramatically reduced risk of a stroke. The patient’s optimism was rated on a 16-point scale. For every 1 point increase on the scale, the patient’s stroke risk was reduced by 9%.
- A study involving nuns revealed a dramatic link between happiness and longevity. 90% of the nuns rating in the top quarter of cheerfulness were alive at age 85. Only 34% of the nuns in the bottom quarter were still alive at 85. 54% of the most cheerful nuns were alive at 94, whereas only 11% of the least cheerful lived to that age. Another study showed that optimists had a 19% longer life span on average.
- A study at Columbia University rated happiness levels of over 1,700 adults with no heart problems. After a decade, the researchers found that happier people were significantly less likely to develop a heart problem.
- A world wide study surveying 140 different countries revealed that the link between positive attitude and good health may be even stronger among impoverished nations. In so called “Third-World” countries with low life expectancy, harsh living conditions, prevalent hunger, and limited access to modern medicine, overall happiness and optimism played a larger role in determining life expectancy and disease prevalence than it did in industrialized nations.
Greater levels of happiness and related characteristics are associated with lower levels of chronic stress, which can lower immunity and increase inflammation, contributing to a staggering number of illnesses. High levels of chronic stress are associated with increased susceptibility to depression, diabetes, hair loss, hyperthyroidism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual dysfunction, ulcers, and several types of cancers. Some studies suggest that as many as 90% of symptoms that patients seek doctor’s visits for are at least partially related to stress. A study showed that happier people had lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and happier men had lower heart rates.
So whether you’re improving your health by exercising and eating right, losing weight, quitting smoking, or making any number of positive lifestyle choices, don’t forget to smile and do the things that make you happy. It will improve your health, how long you live, and the quality of your life itself.