Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

To Your Happiness and Health

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

To Your Happiness and Health

Article excerpt

In todays hurried existence, we do not muse very often about our own happiness--that good feeling reflective of our own well-being. We certainly expect to ultimately obtain happiness as a well-deserved outcome of our hard work, recreational activities, time spent with family and friends, and doing the things we enjoy. Without much thought, our unstated goal at the end of the day is to have more good times than bad.

With this approach, we rarely appreciate the long-term benefits that happiness has on our lives, and we don't appreciate that we can cultivate greater happiness. This apparent neglect really is an amazing anomaly, granted the incessant focus on happiness-seeking in our popular culture and music. It's even more problematic because as several prominent neuroscientists and psychologists have pointed out, "our brains are like Velcro for bad experiences and like Teflon for good ones." From an evolutionary standpoint, this unremitting focus on bad experiences--fear, disgust, anger--facilitated our survival. But, new thinking sheds light on the evolutionary benefits of positive emotions that prompt curiosity, discovery, openness, creativity, and connection--facilitating our growth and progress as individuals and societies.

Like the genes we inherit for our height and weight, each of us has a biological set point for happiness. However, just as we can influence our size through our nutrition and diet, we also can choose to influence our happiness set point. Ed Diener, a renowned expert in the field of positive psychology and well-being science, explains in his review of three decades of research in this area that our happiness is malleable and there are things we can and should do to cultivate more happiness in our lives.

OUR HAPPINESS IS VERY IMPORTANT

Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also wants us to pay a lot more attention to our own happiness because, as he's emphasized, "Happiness affects us on a biological level. Happier people live longer... . As we grapple with the challenges of how to create a healthier world, let's remember that happiness is a powerful tool to improving health."

Happiness does influence our health. Well-reported research on Catholic nuns found that those who were happiest actually lived up to seven to ten years longer than their less-happy counterparts. A related, three-decade study of Alameda County, California, residents found that those with greater life satisfaction died less frequently during the study. Other studies looking at both healthy and diseased groups over time found that people with higher levels of positive emorions, whether they were healthy or ill, lived longer, after controlling for negative emotions.

Happiness has a direct effect upon the heart. Greater happiness relates to a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and greater regularity in heart beats. Astonishingly, a ten-year Canadian study found each one-point increase in positive emotions caused heart disease risk to decrease twenty-two percent.

Happiness also has a range of other health effects. It can protect us against disease and disability, including short-term aches and pains, chronic pain; longer-term diseases, such as cancer; and even disabilities, such as frailty in older persons. These effects are likely because happiness can boost our immune system. Happiness also can help protect us against the effects of stress by more quickly lowering the levels of harmful stress hormones, such as Cortisol and other stress-related blood factors known to be associated with a greater risk of heart disease.

OUR HAPPINESS CAN IMPROVE OUR WELL-BEING

Our level of happiness is a very good barometer of our well-being.

While there are many perspectives on factors that comprise well-being, simply put, well-being consists of two major assessments each of us makes every day: the state of our life (How are we doing?) and the state of our emotions (How do we feel about how we are doing? …

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