Don’t Worry, Be Happy—For Health!
There is one simple choice you can make everyday that will have a profound effect upon your health. And it doesn’t require you to do a thing.
This simple choice can cut your risk of coronary heart disease in half. It can cut cortisol—the dangerous stress hormone—in your body to 1/12th it’s previous rate.
It can even add 7-10 years to your life.
The simple choice I’m talking about? Be happy.
Don’t worry—be happy
I know, when talking about emotions, feeling one way or another is easier said than done.
And there’s no doubt, sometimes your emotional state is beyond your control. If you’re depressed, you can’t wish it away.
But for the majority of us, the majority of the time, your emotional response to the world is a choice. It might not always feel like it—but it is.
You may not be able to control how you feel, but you CAN control your reaction to that feeling.
No one controls your mind, but you.
It’s a good thing too.
You often hear how negative emotions—like stress and anger—are bad for your health. They can hurt you in myriad ways—from damaging your cardiovascular system, to depressing your immune response, to upping your odds of developing cancer.
What you don’t hear nearly as much, however, is how positive emotions work an opposite magic.
And I’m not merely talking about an absence of damage, either. You aren’t just eliminating negative effects.
You’re increasing positive ones.
I already mentioned some of the benefits of positive emotions above. In addition to those findings, positive emotions make you 1.5 times less likely to have long-term health conditions. They strengthen your immune system, and actually help you feel less pain.
That’s right. When faced with the exact same conditions, like arthritis, those who experience frequent positive thoughts report more comfort and less pain.
Again, this doesn’t really require you to do anything. It just requires you to find the right framework, to see more of the positive in the world.
It just requires an emotional reset.
If you’re having trouble finding your happy place, though, there are some things you can do to help yourself along.
1. An attitude of gratitude
There is always someone out there who has more than you.
But guess what? As long as your basic needs are being met, studies show that increases in money don’t increase happiness.
In other words, all those toys and trips won’t bring you happiness. Once you’ve got the basics covered—and you don’t have to worry about food or shelter—worrying about what you don’t have is a fool’s errand.
In fact, one huge 75-year study done by Harvard found that happiness can be boiled down to one word: Love. If you’ve got love somewhere in your life, you’ve truly got all you need to be happy.
So each day, take a moment to reflect on the love in your life. Feel grateful for it. Feel grateful for the loves that have come and gone, as well—they can be just as real and present as one sitting beside you now.
Simply taking time to acknowledge your gratitude for your gifts is a very uplifting experience.
2. Make quiet time
The world moves fast these days. Fast and loud. If you want, you can spend your entire day surrounded by sounds, videos, words, entertainment—or worries, responsibilities, and chores.
Those are all fine and necessary, in the right doses. But one thing we neglect in the modern world is finding some quiet time for reflection, or simply recharging.
Many people like to meditate once a day for 10-30 minutes. If you can, that’s wonderful—the slow breathing, the relaxation, it’s all beneficial.
But even if you don’t like meditating, just taking a few minutes away from the frenetic pace of the world to sit with yourself is a huge help.
This is when you can do a self check-in. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, and why. Even if you’re feeling unhappy, simply seeing and recognizing your blues can go a long way in dissolving them.
And if you’re feeling good, this is a great time to just breathe in and appreciate the world. It might sound silly—but it’s essential for your mental well being.
3. Find your helpers
We are all shaped by those we spend our time with.
So if you spend your time with a bunch of negative, stressed, disgruntled people, that will rub off on you.
Likewise, if you’re surrounded by optimistic, happy, striving people, that too will rub off.
That doesn’t mean everyone always has to be chipper—that would be unnatural. But the sunnier the default, the better. And the more involved, as well.
Friends who push hard and are achieving in life—they may not always be smiling, but they will be much more content and happy in the long-view.
Likewise, those who are lazy and always goofing off may be filling their days with empty entertainment.
Find the people who are happy with what they’re doing in their lives, and you’ll be happier yourself.
4. Fake it ‘til you make it.
Sometimes, there’s no getting around a blue day. Or week. Or year.
Sometimes, the world hands you tragedy, and it’s all you can do just to get up each day.
And sometimes, you just feel lousy for no reason in particular.
Guess what? There’s a way to defeat these doldrums.
And that’s to will them away.
Happy thoughts make happy chemicals—like dopamine.
And happy thoughts can, sometimes, come out of happy behavior.
Studies show that the act of smiling can prompt positive emotions, even if you don’t feel them initially.
It works the other way as well. In a study of botox patients, those who couldn’t frown because of the treatment, reported fewer negative feelings.
We don’t totally understand the relationship, but it’s clear that the connection between our emotions, and their expression, isn’t a one-way street.
So if you’re feeling down, try squeezing out a smile. Watch something funny that forces out a laugh.
Regardless of how you do it, take time each day to give your mood a little maintenance. Practice your joy.
Not only will you feel better—you’ll also be measurably healthier.
It’s what I recommend to all my patients. And I’m happy to give you the same prescription.
- Melinda Wenner, Smile! It Could Make You Happier, Scientific American, Sep 1 2009
- Sarah Barness, Harvard’s 75 Year Study Reveals The Secret To Living A Happy Life. And Here It Is., A Plus, Feb 10 2015
- Sara Rimer, The Biology Of Emotion—And What It May Teach Us About Helping People To Live Longer, Harvard School of Public Health, Winter 2011
- Kira M. Newman, Six Ways Happiness Is Good For Your Health, University of California, Berkeley, Jul 28 2015
- Berkeley Wellness, The Science Of Happiness, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 2016, 32:9:1-2