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How a Positive State of Mind Can Lead to a Healthier You

“Happiness is the highest form of health.”Dalai Lama

What is Happiness?

What is happiness? Happy, being in a state of happiness means different things to different people. If asked, some would say that happiness is associated with satisfaction in one’s self, while others might say that happiness is one’s appreciation of life. While still, others may say that happiness is associated with success, wealth, and financial security. According to Wikipedia, happiness is subjective and can differ personally as well as culturally. It defines happiness as a mental or emotional state of positive or pleasant emotion ranging from contentment to intense joy.

What Happens in the Brain When You are Happy

Chemicals released in the brain in response to happiness include endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Pharmaceutical companies make drugs that target the receptors in the brain that release these chemicals however; there are natural ways to activate these parts of the brain:

  • Dopamine motivates action and activates the reward system. It is associated with positive emotions, exuberance and desire. You can naturally simulate the feeling associated with dopamine by achieving and setting new goals.
  • Endorphins mask pain and give you that extra burst of energy when you need to push through a challenging situation.  Working up a sweat through exercise also releases endorphins.
  • Serotonin levels affects mood. Serotonin is produced through self-confidence, trust and being respected by others. You can also boost your serotonin level by re-living an achievement in your past and by getting plenty of sunlight and Vitamin D.  
  • Oxytocin is associated with feelings of trust and love. You can boost your oxytocin levels through closeness with another person and maintaining healthy relationships. 

Correlation between Happiness and Good Health.

Can happiness create good health? Scientific research says yes. Compelling evidence shows that being happy is good for your brain, heart, immune system, prevents disease and disability, and can even add years to your life. The positive effects of happiness on your health is not fully understood; however, a mass of exciting new research has found that it does promote healthier lifestyle choices and it is good for your health. For instance, in one study examining the effects of happiness on the immune system, over 300 healthy participants were given nasal drops containing a cold virus. Results showed that the participants who reported being the least happy were three times more likely to develop a common cold than their happier counterparts were.   

In another study looking at the effects of optimism on heart health, over 6,800 older adults were monitored over a four-year period. Results showed that the most optimistic participants reduced their risk of heart failure by 48 percent.  Likewise, a six-year study examining the association between emotional well-being and incidence of stroke found that a positive state of well-being lowered the risk of stroke in older adults by 26 percent.

Making Yourself Happier:

Psychology Today recommends the following happiness-enhancing techniques – that can be practiced (without assistance) at home, at work, or even in your car.

10 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in 30 Seconds or Less:

  1. Take a deep breath. Take a big inhale. Hold 15 seconds. Slowly release. Try it again!
  2. Be grateful. Think of something that triggers a feeling a gratitude. Did you receive good news? Nice weather? Was the traffic particularly light today? Sit and enjoy that feeling of gratitude for a moment.
  3. Be positive.  Take time to appreciate what thankfully did not happen during your day.  No car trouble. You made it home safely. Your family is safe.
  4. Smile.  Smiling elevates your mood and creates a sense of well-being. The deliberate decision to smile actually activates happiness-inducing chemicals in your brain. Click here to read more about the benefits of smiling.
  5. Label your negative feelings.  If you are angry, feeling overwhelmed, or feel like things are out of your control, name it. By doing this, you are taking control of your feelings and shifting activity from the emotional side of your brain to the thinking part.
  6. Sit up straight.  In addition to helping prevent neck, shoulder, and back pain, good posture also stimulates positive emotions such as confidence, self-esteem and a happier mood.
  7. Take note of the small pleasures in life.  Is the sun shining? Did you hear something funny today? Did someone compliment your shirt? Hold that pleasant thought for 5 seconds or more. Enjoy the moment.
  8. Appreciate yourself.  Give yourself a high-five for something you did well or accomplished today.
  9. Find the positive in the negative. Did something not go as planned? Start thinking about the setback as a challenge rather than a failure. Take 5 seconds to reflect and then the next 25 seconds to start planning how to move forward!
  10. Use a desktop photo to remind you of the purposes and pleasures of your life. Placing a photo on your desk of your family, or a vacation or your favorite pet can remind you of a pleasant moment and take you to your mental “happy place.”

Does good health cause happiness or does happiness cause good health? Both sides have been debated, but what we can learn from research is that there is a correlation between the two and that even though happiness does not actually originate from the heart, happiness is good for the heart. Do not let negativity block you opportunities to live your best life. Take time to enjoy the small things and remember; your health is your wealth!

Last Updated on April 29, 2020

Published by Chrishun Brown

Communications Manager for the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center

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