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The Health Benefits of Happiness

November 13th, 2012 Healthy Living

It goes without saying that happiness and health are at the top of almost everybody's priorities. Our lives are simply better when we feel emotionally fulfilled and physically able. As such, it's important to keep a positive outlook in all facets of your life, whether it's work, family or personal aspirations. But do you know just how important happiness really is? Keeping a smile on your face is all well and good, but it turns out there is widespread evidence that being happy improves nearly all metrics of your life.

A composite review of more than 160 studies on humans and animals has found that, all other things being equal, there is a clear indication that happy people live longer and healthier lives than their more dour counterparts. The study, published in the medical journal "Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being" is one of the most expansive looks at the effects of happiness on our lives to date. Lead author Ed Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois and a senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, examined a vast number of long-term studies to reach this conclusion.

"We reviewed eight different types of studies, and the general conclusion from each type … is that your subjective well-being - that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed - contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations," he explained.

Conversely, an overly negative attitude toward life - anxiety, depression and pessimism - showed an association with an increased risk of disease. Maintaining a positive mood can help boost your immune system and help the heart recover after strenuous activity.

The same applies for animals as well! Those who were subjected to a more stressful lifestyle were more disposed to heart problems and a shorter lifespan than those whose stress levels remained relatively low.

Of course, being happy may not cure your diseases, but it can certainly make the healing process go by faster. Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it definitely helps!

Happiness isn't something you can force on yourself - if you're in a bad mood, it's not easy to simply will yourself out of it. You don't have to blindly move forward with an unwavering positive attitude, but it's not a bad idea to sit back and think of the good things in your life from time to time. Remind yourself about all of the good things you have going for you, and reminisce about fond times with loved ones.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can do wonders for your state of mind. A number of vital nutrients play an important role in our well-being, and if you're lacking in one of them, you may very well feel the effects in your mood. Treat yourself well, and your body will thank you for it with more energy and a more uplifting frame of mind.

If you're one who's prone to anger and who gets upset easily, it may be time to work on changing those bad habits. This is certainly easier said than done, but it's all about reframing a given situation into something more positive. Remember - the difference between falling and flying is a shift in perspective! If you're especially concerned about your state of mind, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor - he or she might have advice that can help you immensely.