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Why Happiness is Your Most Important Health Tool:
What the Studies Say


positive psychology

Being happy can add at least 7.5 years to your life!

What can happiness do for you?

The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania has uncovered some intriguing facts about happiness. For instance, people who are happy:

  • Do better at work, school and sports

  • Are less depressed

  • Have fewer physical health problems

  • Have better relationships

Optimism has even been verified as a successful strategy to prevent mental and physical illness. Scientists believe a large reason why being happy is so healthy has to do with stress.

"Of course, optimists get stressed," says David Snowdon, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky in a Prevention article. "But they automatically turn the response off much more quickly and return to a positive mental and physical state."

So beneficial is this ability that those who are optimistic in middle age can expect to add at least 7.5 years to their life -- even after adjusting for age, gender, physical health and socioeconomic status -- according to a survey by Yale University.

Fortunately, even those of you who currently are less-than-happy can get these same benefits, as studies also show that optimism can be learned.

How to Get Happy

This is where things do get a bit hazy. It's undoubtedly clear that being happy is great for your health, but how to get happy is less of an exact science. The Gallup poll, for instance, found that the following groups of people are more likely to be happy:

  • Republicans

  • Married adults

  • Those in higher income households

  • Parents of young children

  • Those who attend church weekly

  • Whites

At the same time, other studies have found that wealth has very little to do with how happy you are. Nor do things that satisfy you in the short-term, like shopping, eating, or making money, according to the Positive Psychology Center.

It's even been found that trying to maximize your happiness can lead to unhappiness! So what's a person to do?


Smiling, laughing, doing good deeds, expressing gratitude, and exercising are all things that can make you feel happier.

Concentrate on doing more of the things that are proven to make you feel good. There are more of them than you might think:

  1. Maximize "flow" by engaging in powerful experiences that bring it about. "Engaging in an experience that produces 'flow' is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. The activity is its own reward," according to the Positive Psychology Center. You can experience flow when your "skills are sufficient for a challenging activity, in the pursuit of a clear goal, with immediate feedback on progress toward the goal."

  2. Show your gratitude for the good things in your life. Expressing gratitude regularly has been linked to better health, well-being and progress toward your goals.

  3. Practice the important art of forgiveness, which is also essential for your happiness.

  4. Think only positive thoughts about yourself and your life.

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  1. Try to live in the present, feeling neither regret for past events nor fear or anxiety about the future.

  2. Do something kind for someone. Studies show that doing five good deeds a day can make you happier. If you need some motivation, watch someone else do something kind. Just witnessing the act has been found to boost your mood and make you more likely to do nice things as well.

  3. If you're going to spend money, spend it on experiences rather than possessions. Transformative experiences are some of the most powerful ways to increase your happiness and satisfaction in life.

  4. Be good to your body. Eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, stretching ... all of these things add up to greater well-being.

  5. Laugh and smile -- and engage in experiences that enable you to do so. It's proven to make you feel good.

  6. When you feel stressed out, learn how to relax ... and again engage in experiences that enable you to do so. The Pure Relaxation CD, which uses guided meditations and music that will calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body, is an excellent tool to help you do so.

Recommended Reading

Research Shows You Can Worry Yourself Into Dementia and Even Alzheimer's

How Does the Way You Think Impact Your Health?


University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center December 31, 2007 January 9, 2005

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