“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said these words more than 2,000 years ago, and they still ring true today.
Happiness is a broad term that describes the experience of positive emotions, such as joy, contentment and satisfaction.
Emerging research shows that being happier doesn’t just make you feel better — it actually brings a host of potential health benefits. This blog explores the ways in which being happy may make you healthier.
Being Happy Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle
Being happy promotes a range of lifestyle habits that are important for overall health. Happy people tend to eat healthier diets, with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (Source).
A study of more than 7,000 adults found that those with a positive well-being were 47% more likely to consume fresh fruits and vegetables than their less positive counterparts (Source).
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have consistently been associated with a range of health benefits, including lower risks of diabetes, stroke and heart disease (Source).
In the same study of 7,000 adults, researchers found that individuals with a positive well-being were 33% more likely to be physically active, with 10 or more hours of physical activity per week.
Regular physical activity helps build strong bones, increase energy levels, decrease body fat and lower blood pressure (Source).
What’s more, being happier may also improve sleep habits and practices, which is important for concentration, productivity, exercise performance and maintaining a healthy weight (Source).
One study of over 700 adults found that sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep, were 47% higher in those who reported low levels of positive well-being.
That said, a 2016 review of 44 studies concluded that, while there appears to be a link between positive well-being and sleep outcomes, further research from well-designed studies is needed to confirm the association
Cultivating Happiness Appears to Boost the Immune System
A healthy immune system is important for overall health. Research has shown that being happier may help keep your immune system strong.
The least happy people were almost three times as likely to develop the common cold compared to their happier counterparts (Source).
The effects of happiness on the immune system are not completely understood. What’s more, happy people are more likely to take part in health-promoting behaviors that play a role in keeping the immune system strong. These include healthy eating habits and regular physical activity.
Being Healthy Helps Combat Stress
Being happy may help reduce stress levels.
A number of studies demonstrate that cortisol levels (a stress hormone) tend to be lower when people are happier.
These effects appeared to persist over time. When the researchers followed up with the same group of adults three years later, there was a 20% difference in cortisol levels between the happiest and least happy people.
Happiness May Protect Your Heart
Happiness may protect the heart by reducing blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.
A study of over 6,500 people over the age of 65 found that positive well-being was linked to a 9% lower risk of high blood pressure (Source).
Happiness may also reduce the risk of heart disease, the biggest cause of death worldwide (Source). One long-term of 1,500 adults found that happiness helped protect against heart disease.
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%.
It is important to note that some of these effects may have been due to an increase in heart-healthy behaviors such as physical activity, avoiding smoking and healthy eating habits.
May Lengthen Your Life Expectancy
Being happy may help you live longer.
Higher positive well-being was found to have a favorable effect on survival, reducing the risk of death by 18% in healthy people and by 2% in those with pre-existing disease.
Happiness may be partly explained by an increase in beneficial behaviors that prolong survival, such as not smoking, engaging in physical activity, medication compliance, and good sleep habits and practices.
May Help Reduce Pain
Arthritis is a common condition that involves inflammation and degeneration of the joints. It causes painful and stiff joints, and generally worsens with age.
A number of studies have found that higher positive well-being may reduce the pain and stiffness associated with the condition (Source).
Being happy may also improve physical functioning in people with arthritis.
One study in over 1,000 people with painful arthritis of the knee found that happier individuals walked an extra 711 steps each day — 8.5% more than their less happy counterparts (Source).
Happiness may also help reduce pain in other conditions. A study in nearly 1,000 people recovering from stroke found that the happiest individuals had 13% lower pain ratings after three months of leaving the hospital.
Researchers have suggested that happy people may have lower pain ratings because their positive emotions help broaden their perspective, encouraging new thoughts and ideas.
Other Ways Being Happy May Make You Healthier
A small number of studies have linked happiness to other health benefits.
While these early findings are promising, they need to be backed up by further research to confirm the associations.
May reduce frailty: Frailty is a condition characterized by a lack of strength and balance. A study in 1,500 elderly adults found that the happiest individuals had a 3% lower risk of frailty over the 7-year study period
May protect against stroke: A stroke occurs when there is a disturbance in blood flow to the brain. A study in older adults found that positive well-being lowered the risk of stroke by 26%
Ways to Increase Your Happiness
Being happy doesn’t just make you feel better — it’s also incredibly beneficial for your health.
Here are six scientifically proven ways to become happier.
Express gratitude: You can increase your happiness by focusing on the things you are grateful for. One way to practice gratitude is to write down three things you are grateful for at the end of each day (Source).
Get active: Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is the most effective type of exercise for increasing happiness. Walking or playing tennis won’t just be good for your physical health, it’ll help boost your mood too.
Get a good night’s rest: Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your happiness. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, then check out these tips for getting a better night’s sleep (Source).
Spend time outside: Head outside for a walk in the park, or get your hands dirty in the garden. It takes as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise to significantly improve your mood.
Meditate: Regular meditation can increase happiness and also provide a host of other benefits, including reducing stress and improving sleep.
Eat a healthier diet: Studies show that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the happier you will be. What’s more, eating more fruits and vegetables will also improve your health in the long-term.