Happiness protects the heart. A 10-year study of 1,739 Canadian adults found that having a positive outlook on life can reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack by as much as 22%. And that is huge.
The study compared people who tend to express positive emotions — or “positive affect” — with people who tend to express negative emotions. It concluded that happier people are far less likely to develop heart disease and that this protection extends to generally positive people who may feel depressed at times, if the depression is fleeting.
Lead researcher Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center speculates that these results may be due to several different factors. Happier people probably tend to get more sleep, are less inclined to smoke and exercise more often, all of which leads to lower heart rates. They also may have less stress in their lives and may spend less time re-living the stress that they do confront.
Dr. Davidson suggests that even a 15-to 20-minute dose of daily happiness may improve your health, but that doesn’t mean you have to pretend you’re on a paid holiday. It’s the little things that make us truly happy.
These behaviors or happiness activities can include reading, walking, working in your garden, scrapbooking or anything else that brings you joy. Unfortunately for many, golfing takes too long, but you may find a few minutes of pleasure on the putting green or driving range.
We have known for a long time that visualization helps those who are dealing with serious illness, and that just seeing yourself getting well and re-engaging in life can aid in curing diseases. So it just makes sense that giving yourself the gift of feeling happy can help you live longer and stronger.
Even if you don’t believe that happiness will keep you from becoming ill, is it going to hurt you to try to be a little happier? No matter how disgruntled, busy or skeptical you may be, engaging in things that bring you joy is going to make you feel better.
Heart health is dependent on genetics and lifestyle, in addition to your psychological state. If you lead a sedentary life, don’t take care of yourself and have a generally grumpy attitude, life will not be so sweet, and you will increase your risk of heart disease and other illnesses. Knowing that you have the ability to change your mental and physical condition may be a little difficult to grasp at first, but once you commit to making your life better, everything will change for the better.
I know many people who have gone from miserable to happy, and it’s not just a temporary fix. This is the kind of growth that stays with you, because you’ve created a habit of happiness.I know that forcing yourself to be happy seems counterintuitive, but by just having fun, you could add more years to your life and more life to your years. Make it part of your daily routine and enjoy!
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning therapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of seven books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 27 million readers. He practices in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and is available for video sessions. Reach him at email@example.com. His column appears Sundays and Tuesdays in the News-Press.