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Boost Your Opportunities for Happiness

Happiness improves health. The effect of happiness on longevity is comparable to the benefits of not smoking. Happiness does not extend the length of life in seriously ill people but it increases longevity in healthy individuals.1

Genuine happiness can protect us from some of the detrimental effects that the sympathetic nervous system and stress, in general, have on our cardiovascular system. The sympathetic nervous system is activated under situations that produce a fright, flight, or fight response in us. In individuals who are obese or have high blood pressure, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive.

Dr. A. Steptoe and associates collected data from middle-aged men and women. They found that independent of age, socioeconomic status, smoking, body mass, and psychological distress, happy individuals had lower salivary cortisol, both on working and nonworking days, reduced fibrinogen and stress responses, and in men, a lower ambulatory heart rate. Happiness was inversely related to ambulatory systolic blood pressure on follow-up. In other words, happiness can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and the risk for clotting, slow the heart rate, promote better nourishment of the heart muscle, and help to protect us from high blood pressure.2

One study of 286 adolescents found that teenagers who had more feelings of happiness had fewer psychopathological symptoms, fewer behavioral problems, better academics, high social adaptation, high self-concept/self-esteem, many cooperative behaviors, many appropriate social skills, and few negative social skills (inappropriate assertiveness, impulsiveness, jealousy-withdrawal).3

How to Improve Your Opportunities for Happiness

Recognize that to Very Large Degree, Happiness, as well as Health, is an Achievement

Health and happiness depend upon the harmonious development of our physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of our being. Not as happy as you want to be? Check the balance in your life and restructure your schedule for the development of the whole person you are. If you are heavily engaged in sedentary pursuits and are not taking time to exercise or cook healthfully, figure out how to incorporate those activities into your daily schedule. We need to nurture different aspects of our being, to grow in truth and happiness.

Don’t Pursue Happiness — Have Realistic Expectations

Happiness is often a byproduct. To be self-absorbed with one’s own pursuit of happiness is counterproductive. People who strive for happiness may end up worse off than when they started. Expectations that these things ought to make you happy can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness. Having healthy social relationships is the strongest predictor of happiness when compared to money or external recognition achieved by fame or success.4

Wisely Invest in Others — Cultivate Acts of Kindness

Helping others in judicious and balanced ways can yield big dividends in happiness. Before the age of two, toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves.5 Altruistic (other-regarding) emotions and behaviors are associated with greater wellbeing, health, and longevity.6

Cultivate Trust

Sure, we are to be careful, but being suspicious of everyone demoralizes us. The trust hormone oxytocin seems to be involved in a sense of wellbeing and is associated with happiness. Women who show large increases in oxytocin when they are trusted, also report being more satisfied with life and less depressed. During one study women were given a gift of $24 from a stranger. Women who showed the greatest increases in oxytocin after receiving the gift were more satisfied with their lives, showed greater resilience to adverse events, and were less likely to be depressed.7

Cultivate Self-Control in All Aspects of Your Life

“Self-control is the capacity to alter and regulate predominant response tendencies resulting in the inhibition of undesirable behaviors while promoting desirable ones to support the pursuit of long-term goals.”8 Self-disciplined people are happier. Self-control enables us to manage competing goals. An observational study assessed 414 middle-aged participants on self-control and asked them about their life satisfaction both currently and in the past. The researchers found a strong connection between higher levels of self-control and life satisfaction.9

Focus on Positive Gains

Another study found that happy individuals focus more on positive gains than avoiding losses. 10

Exercise Regularly

Data from 15 countries revealed that increasing physical activity volume was associated with higher levels of happiness.11.Physical activity volume is the product of frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise.

Preferably Exercise in Nature

Green exercise is a winner. Just 5 minutes of walking, cycling, or gardening in a green environment improves the mood and promotes mental health.12 A review of 11 studies showed that compared to exercise indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of rejuvenation and increased energy. Participants who exercised outdoors also experienced less tension, confusion, anger, and depression. They reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.13 Group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress, and enhanced mental health and well-being. 14

Berman and associates showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a 60 minute walk in a wooded park, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment. Walking for an hour in both environments improved mood.15

Cultivate Spirituality

Johnstone studied 200 individuals and the effects of their religious beliefs on their health income. There were two groups in this study: those who had positive religious beliefs were compared to those who had negative religious beliefs. Negative religious beliefs sabotage mental health and happiness. Examples of negative spirituality: blaming karma for pain, or believing that experiencing pain means God has forsaken one, or believing that if they don’t do a job correctly, God is angry with them. Having any degree of negative spiritual belief contributed to poorer health outcomes. Also, individuals who held to them reported more pain than those who held positive beliefs. Individuals with negative spiritual beliefs also reported participating in religious practices less frequently and having lower levels of positive spirituality and forgiveness. This same study showed that when people firmly believed God loves and forgives them, despite their shortcomings, they had significantly better mental health.16

However, believing in a loving God and engaging in meaningful worship and prayer promote health. Another study revealed that individuals who practice religion and spirituality reported better physical and mental health than those who did not. Without good mental health, happiness is almost impossible to achieve. Practicing religion or spirituality may help buffer the negative consequences of chronic health conditions. A study found that for women, mental health is associated with daily spiritual experiences, forgiveness, and religious/spiritual coping.17

© 2018 – 2020, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.

Sources

  1. Beethoven et al. Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2008; 9 (3): 449 DOI: 10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1.
  2. Steptoe, A. and Wardle, J., Positive affect and biological function in everyday life. Neurobiology Aging, 26(Supple 1):108-12, epub Oct 6, 2005.
  3. Garaigordobil M. Predictor variables of happiness and its connection with risk and protective factors for health. Front Psychol. 2015 Aug 12;6:1176.
  4. Association for Psychological Science. “Happiness has a dark side.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2011.www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110516162219.htm
  5. Aknin LB. Giving leads to happiness in young children. PLoS One. 2012; 7(6):e39211.
  6. Post SG. Altuism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. Int J Behav Med.2005;12(2):66-77.
  7. Society for Neuroscience. “Trust hormone associated with happiness: Human study suggests new role for oxytocin.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2010. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101115160304.htm
  8. Cheung T. Why are people with high self-control happier? The effect of trait self-control on happiness as mediated by regulatory focus. Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 722.
  9. Szalavitz, Maria. Self-Disciplined People Are Happier (and Not as Deprived as You Think). healthland.time.com. June 24, 2013.
  10. Cheung T. Why are people with high self-control happier? The effect of trait self-control on happiness as mediated by regulatory focus. Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 722.
  11. Richards J. Don’t worry, be happy: cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries. BMC Public Health. 2015 Jan 31; 15:53.
  12. American Chemical Society. “In the green of health: Just 5 minutes of ‘green exercise’ optimal for good mental health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2010. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100502080414.htm
  13. The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry. “Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110204130607.htm
  14. University of Michigan Health System. “Walking off depression and beating stress outdoors? Nature group walks linked to improved mental health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140923121413.htm
  15. Berman,MG. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression.Journal of Affective Disorders, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012.
  16. University of Missouri Health. “Negative spiritual beliefs associated with more pain and worse physical, mental health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150923125336.htm
  17. University of Missouri-Columbia. “Religious, spiritual support benefits men and women facing chronic illness, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111026143811.htm

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