I got to thinking the other day about whether health and happiness are related. I know several people who are never happy, and spend much of their time continually nursing one ailment after another. Then I know others who seem to be perpetually happy and rarely deal with more than the normal bouts of colds, or aches & pains. Now I realize that there are people with serious issues that cause them unbearable pain or others who suffer from depression or other emotional struggle. I’m not trying to say that they don’t have a reason for their pain or unhappiness. I’m thinking of average people without a debilitating condition – just your average life – and then whether that person’s reaction to life is generally roll with punches & enjoy, or be deflated and miserable.
So I thought about happy vs. unhappy people. Why would one be affected more by ailments? Is it because happy people brush off small aches and pains and move on to the next great thing in their lives? Is it because unhappy people are inwardly focused and dwell on each little thing that twinges or feels out of whack? It seems obvious that someone who is unhappy does not deal with stress well – if the body feels constantly under stress, I could see how their immune system could be fatigued. This would also seem to put muscles in a tightened state which could generate more skeletal aches and pains. Does that also mean that a happy person who is emotionally flexible when dealt a blow has a less stressed and potentially even better prepared immune system?
Turns out I’m not the only one who questioned this theory. One article I read from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Winter 2011,( http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/ )
This article mentions Laura Kubzansky’s a 2007 study of over 6,000 men and women over the course of 20 years which found that emotional vitality – a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life and the ability to have emotional balance when facing life stresses – reduced the risk of coronary heart disease. Another article from healthline.com states researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles say people with high levels of eudaimonic happiness (happiness rooted in virtue rather than superficial value and self-gratification) actually have genes that function better by keeping inflammation low and antiviral/antibody activity high. (http://www.healthline.com/health-news/mental-how-happiness-keeps-you-healthy-081513)
So – now it’s not just whether you’re happy, but are you happy deep down or does your happiness come from outside ‘things’ or other people. Hmmm – even more to think about.
I consider myself a generally happy person. I grew up in a low-to-middle class family in PA, joined the AF at 17 so I could go to college, pretty much worked my way through life. No it wasn’t a hard road, but did require persistence. I think a big part of my happiness comes from the joy I get from nature, or seeing my boys enjoy something, from reading scripture daily and trying to show others the love of Christ in whatever way I can. I’m generally healthy. If I do get sick, I tend to recover quickly.
So what do you think – I won’t call anyone out with examples of unhappy & unhealthy people, but I see them around me every day and I wonder – “If you smiled more, would you have less pain, less illness, and less ailments?”
Does being happy make you healthier? I’m going to continue thinking yes – and guess what – even if I’m wrong – at least I’ll spend my days with a smile.
So – Go forth & be happy – and probably healthy, too!