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Happiness and the Science Behind It

Happiness and the Science Behind It

Happiness, it is sort after by many as one of the most important things in life.  At the International Congress on Natural Medicine this year we heard Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky speak about her numerous scientific studies into happiness.  Would you believe, being happy also has so many indirect benefits.  From 225 studies on the benefits
of happiness, it was found that happy people:

  • are more productive at work and more proactive
  • make more money
  • are better leaders and negotiators
  • are more likely to marry and have fulfilling marriages and less likely to divorce
  • have more friends and social networks
  • have stronger immune systems, are physically healthier and even live longer
  • are more helpful and philanthropic
  • are more resilient in response to stress and trauma. 2

One particular study took healthy volunteers and had them complete a questionnaire on their happiness levels.  They then administered them with nasal drops containing a rhinovirus.  After being quarantined for five days and monitored for one month, it was found that the happier volunteers were less likely to develop a cold.1

Wow, now that’s encouragement to work on our own happiness.  So according to the research, how can we make this happen?  Dr. Lyubomirsky noted that we were all born with a set point for happiness, which has been genetically determined.  Identical twins are actually more similar in their happiness levels to that of fraternal twins.  However, despite these findings she specified that we still have a substantial portion of our happiness (around 40%) that is in our power to change.3

So, how do we do this!  The following are strategies that have been studied to increase happiness levels:

  • expressing gratitude and appreciation
  • practicing acts of kindness
  • nurturing optimistic thinking
  • learning to forgive
  • savouring the moment
  • investing in relationships
  • putting in place life goals
  • practising religion or spirituality
  • meditating
  • partaking in physical activity and exercise.4

Social connection is one of the major contributors to happiness.  A 2002 study conducted at the University of Illinois found that a group of students in the highest 10% of happiness levels all had something in common; their strong ties to friends and family and their dedication to spending time with them. 5
So according to the above, going for a walk with a friend, whilst savouring your time together and appreciating your surroundings seems like it can go a long way towards a happy day.  Why not help someone along the way, your act of kindness will pay its reward in happiness.

 

Albert Einstein stated ‘A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?’  What makes you happy? Ensure you are giving yourself time for these things regularly.  As we have seen, happiness provides even more benefits than we may previously have thought!

  1. Cohen, S, Doyle, W.J, Turner, R.B, Alper, C.M & Stoner, D.P (2001), Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 652-657.

 

  1. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affectPsychological Bulletin, 131,803-855.

 

  1. Lyumbomirsky, S, Sheldon, K.M & Schkade, D (2005), Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of sustainable change, Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-113.

 

  1. Lyubomirsky, S. 2009, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Press.
  2. “The New Science of Happiness,” Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine, Jan. 09, 2005.