At a recent Barnes & Noble event to celebrate my new book — LOVE YOUR AGE: The Small-Step Solution to a Better, Longer, Happier Life (National Geographic) — someone in the audience asked me this (as she called it) ‘Sophie’s Choice Question’: “What is your favorite chapter?”
It’s clear that the mind-body connection is powerful indeed What’s more, the relationship between happiness and health is multifaceted, and a bit mysterious. One known aspect is that as happiness goes up, stress goes down. And since stress suppresses the immune system and contributes to heart disease and other chronic illnesses, anything that reduces it will probably help us live longer and better. But there may be some other benefits to a good attitude as well.
- A Carnegie Mellon University study found that people who demonstrate positive emotions are less likely to become ill after being exposed to a cold virus.
- People who maintain a positive outlook and engage in positive behaviors don’t produce as much cortisol, the stress hormone. In excess doses, cortisol can raise blood pressure, reduce bone density, suppress thyroid function, interfere with blood sugar regulation, and disrupt sleep.
- Those who regularly suppress their emotions tend to have higher blood pressure, as well as a higher risk of heart disease and cancer than people who express their feelings—both good and bad.
- On top of all that, happiness has been proven to elevate our mood, improve our sleep, make us more attractive to potential mates (this is true for both genders), propel us forward with our goals, improve our ability to resolve conflicts, and create stronger relationships.
Oh, and it feels great, too.
Happiness should not be a goal in and of itself. However, a positive outlook can add a lot to your life’s journey.
For my part, I’ve made a decision to wake up happy and stay happy unless there is a legitimate reason not to be. (To help with that plan, I don’t check the news until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee.) I’ve learned even to be happy with moments of unhappiness. While some of my optimism is an inherited trait, the rest of it is a conscious effort. It’s a choice I can make every day… and I choose the habit of being happy.
10 Small Steps to Your Happy Place
- Say “thank you” as often as possible.
- Wear a smile (or at least a half smile) as your default expression.
- Laugh out loud—and seek the people, books, and movies that get you giggling.
- Keep your expectations realistic.
- Go outdoors.
- Turn up the tunes and sing or dance along.
- Spend a few minutes practicing mindfulness meditation.
- Roll with your feelings—remember that they aren’t permanent.
- Speak kindly to yourself (and everyone else).
- Give someone a hug, and then give one to yourself.