How to be happy – 3. Choose happiness for your health

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLesson: Happiness can help protect your mind and body

Before the growth of positive psychology, most psychological research focused on people’s bad experiences. It was well known that negative emotional experiences could damage relationships, health and longevity. Not only that, but many studies suggested negative experiences, in general, had more influence on people than positive ones. What a bleak picture!

Thankfully, more recent studies have looked at the opposite side of the spectrum, and a brighter story has emerged. For instance, positive emotions (being happy!) have been repeatedly shown to help people cope better during difficult times. And while it’s true that bad times can strongly affect us, the good times are more frequent. So over the long-term, it seems the good may well outweigh the bad.

Looking at positive as well as negative influences on people is also changing the way psychologists think about challenges like anxiety and depression. Instead of concentrating only on recent events that leave people vulnerable to psychological difficulties – such as stress – they’re now investigating long-term resources that make people resistant to these problems – such as personal strengths and friendships.

Here are some interesting findings:

  • Happy adolescents are less likely to act out when stressed (1)
  • People experiencing positive emotions following the September 11 attacks were less inclined to become depressed (2)
  • Positive resources, like a sense of meaning, control and optimism, buffer against both mental and physical ill-health (3)
  • Feeling good can protect against the development of disease (4).

Happiness strategy: Choose happiness for your health

If you’ve been thinking that seeking happiness is superficial or selfish, this research might make you think again.

Nurturing your own contentment could help strengthen you against mental and physical problems in the future – including depression and disease. You might save yourself, your family (and even your medical system) a great deal of emotional and financial cost. That doesn’t seem so superficial, does it?

Being happy can help protect you against mental and physical health concerns, and that’s a great benefit – but it’s by no means the only one. Apart from just plain feeling good, happiness brings a broad range of perks to you and the people around you. Stay tuned for future strategies.

Research sources:

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323-370.

Caprara, G. V., & Steca, P. (2005). Affective and social self-regulatory efficacy beliefs as determinants of positive thinking and happiness. European Psychologist, 10(4), 275-286.

(2) Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises: A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103-110.

Keyes, C. L. M., & Lopez, S. J. (2002). Toward a science of mental health: Positive directions in diagnosis and interventions. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 45-59). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(4) Richman, L. S., Kubzansky, L., Maselko, J., Kawachi, I., Choo, P., & Bauer, M. (2005). Positive emotion and health: Going beyond the negative. Health Psychology, 24(4), 422-429.

Simonton, D. K., & Baumeister, R. F. (2005). Positive psychology at the summit. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 99-102.

(1) Suldo, S. M., & Huebner, E. (2004). Does life satisfaction moderate the effects of stressful life events on psychopathological behavior during adolescence? School Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 93-105.

(3) Taylor, S. E., Kemeny, M. E., Bower, J. E., Gruenewald, T. L., & Reed, G. M. (2000). Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health. American Psychologist, 55(1), 99-109.

Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L., & Feldman Barrett, L. (2004). Psychological resilience and positive emotional granularity: Examining the benefits of positive emotions on coping and health. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1161-1190.

How to be happy:
101 practical strategies drawn from positive psychology.

This post is part of a series covering simple, practical, research-inspired, happiness strategies you can use in your own life. For more information about the series, check out the 101 Happiness Strategies main page.

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