UA Professor: We Can Design Places for Happiness and Health

By Kapoor, Maya L | AZ Daily Star, November 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

UA Professor: We Can Design Places for Happiness and Health


Kapoor, Maya L, AZ Daily Star


Looking for happiness? A view of nature, whether it's a backyard panorama of the Catalina Foothills or a workplace window overlooking a parking-lot mesquite, helps us feel happy. Likewise, smells like lavender improve our mood, and relaxing music lowers our heart rate.

According to Dr. Esther Sternberg, in our everyday wonderings about what happiness is, sometimes we forget to consider where happiness is. "Elements of place can induce endorphins and stimulate dopamines, which are good for the immune system and the heart," said Sternberg, a professor of medicine and research director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. She is also the founding director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing.

Sternberg spoke about research on the place-happiness connection, and how it can be applied to designing better spaces, on Wednesday night at the Fox Tucson Theatre as part of the Happiness Downtown Lecture Series. The UA's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences sponsors the free series.

Stresses in the environment cause the brain to release stress hormones. With chronically high cortisol and adrenalin, "your immune system can't do its job," Sternberg said. A suppressed immune system can lead to more infections, faster chromosomal aging and even faster cancer cell growth.

In one study Sternberg described, patients recovering from gallbladder surgery healed faster and required less pain medication if they had a view of trees from their hospital room windows. In another landmark study, residents of Chicago public housing with views of trees were happier overall than residents with views of brick walls. …

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