“Here’s Wishing You Health and Happiness”
You’ve said it, and you have been the recipient of this wish, but have you stopped to think about the connection between health and happiness? The research strongly supports the idea that happy people may well live longer and are generally healthier.
For much of its history western medicine considered the absence of disease to be the definition of health. However, during the 20th century, physicians began to question whether the mere absence of disease really constituted well-being. After all, the absence of poverty does not in itself create wealth. Equally true, the mere absence of depression does not bring happiness.
What is health? A wise physician by the name of Jesse Williams pondered this question in the 1920’s and wrote a book on the topic. A brief paraphrasing of its theme will suffice for our needs. Essentially, Dr. Williams said that health is the optimal state of being that allows for the ultimate engagement of life. That’s a profound idea, for it means that even people with serious illness can be healthy. If you doubt it, remember Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old who fell from a zip line and sustained a gash in her leg, which introduced flesh-eating bacteria into her body. Aimee was an inspiration to almost anyone who heard her story. After the loss of her hands, her left leg, and right foot, Aimee has maintained an indomitable spirit throughout her trials and tribulations. When she was discharged from a rehabilitation center after 51 days she stated that her next goal was to train for the Paralympics.
It’s important to understand the role of positive and negative emotions regarding well-being. Clearly people who experience high and continuous levels of distress will produce high levels of cortisol. Long-term exposure to higher levels of cortisol suppresses the immune system function, thus increasing the likelihood of illness.
On the other side of the emotional spectrum, people who experience more consistent positive moods generally enhance their immunity. This may well lead to greater longevity. The correlation between enhanced well-being and optimism is strong. There are several studies that suggest that optimistic people often experience greater longevity (up to seven years longer), and they report overall higher quality of life. For example, emotionally positive people generally have more gratifying relationships, appreciate what they have, are more resilient, and have a greater capacity to flourish, love and forgive.
So what is the prescription? Every day find someone, something, and/or an event that you appreciate. Practice altruism. Look for those moments that bring a smile or heartfelt laughter, believe in something bigger than you, celebrate the good things in life and learn from the difficult happenings. While most of us would choose to live a long life, we need to be mindful that life comes to us day-to-day and making the most of each day is key to seeing more sunrises. Loving deeply and appreciating the everyday things and people in your life is the goal. Regardless of how long any of us live, the ultimate goal is to experience life optimally and engage it to the fullest.
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