The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reports that according to a study by epidemiologists at University College, London, “happiness is good for your health.” The results were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Continue reading
The Bible teaches, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry …” (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, let go of your anger, regrets, bitterness, sorrow, etc. Why? Wallowing in these emotions is always harmful to our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health. Continue reading
In a large, population-based study out of Europe, researchers found that an increased positive affect (happiness) was protective against a 10-year incidence of coronary heart disease. The researchers are suggesting that preventive strategies may be enhanced not only by reducing sadness and depressive symptoms, but also by increasing positive affect and happiness.
Bloomberg News reports that “people who are naturally happy appear to have a lower risk of developing heart disease or dying from heart attacks, according to” the study published in the European Heart Journal.
The Washington Post “The Checkup” blog reported that investigators “analyzed 10 years of data about 1,739 healthy adults who participated in the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey.”
The AP reports that the researchers “used a five-point scale to measure people’s happiness.” The investigators found that “for every point on the happiness scale, people were 22 percent less likely to have a heart problem.”
You can also learn more about the health dangers of sadness and depression, and get tons of tips on eliminating them in my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. You can see the Table of Contents here, and read the first chapter here.
if you’d like to have a free measure of your health, including your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health, I’ve designed some assessment tools you can utilize at no cost:
So, be honest: Is you life glass half-full or half-empty? I tend to be the former, and based upon the research I’m glad I have a optimistic disposition. But, how about you? Which are you? And, if you’re more pessimistic, what can you do to become more highly healthy?
After reading this blog, if you feel you suffer from more pessimism than you’d like, you might want to check out my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. You can see the Table of Contents here, and read the first chapter here.
Here’s an article originally published in the Washington Post that does a nice job explaining the recent research findings:
Personally, I tend toward (pessimism), though I secretly long to be one of those Pollyannas who always look on the bright side of things and can remain hopeful through a family crisis, two hours of downtown gridlock or any other challenge. In fact, my New Year’s resolution for ’10 is to be more positive. (Meanwhile, the pessimist in me is well aware that studies have shown that roughly 80 percent of those who make such pledges give them up by Valentine’s Day.)
My hope is that positive thinking will make me not only happier but healthier, in the long run. A recent study published in the journal Circulation showed that a sunnier outlook on life is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and mortality. The research, which tracked more than 97,000 women older than 50 for eight years, found that optimists were 9 percent less likely to develop heart disease and 14 percent less likely to die from any cause than their pessimistic counterparts. Those with a high degree of “cynical hostility” were 16 percent more likely than all others to die during that same period.
“This is really consistent with a number of other studies in the past, with the strongest findings in the realm of coronary heart disease: There is good evidence to suggest optimism is protective and that pessimism seems to be detrimental, when it comes to the development of disease and future outcomes,” says Laura Kubzansky, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who has focused on these issues. “But what’s a little less clear is what the mechanisms are, or how that protective effect occurs.”
Not surprisingly, environment seems to play some role in the equation. In this study, for example, socioeconomic status was strongly tied to level of optimism: The women with the most-positive outlook on life tended to be wealthier, more educated, in better shape and less likely to smoke or to be overweight.
“It’s not shocking that out of all the factors we looked at, socioeconomic status was the most related to attitude, but even after controlling for that, attitude was still related to health, so there’s something else going on,” says lead author Hilary Tindle, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Tindle says several factors are probably at play.
One of the possibilities most interesting to scientists is that your psychology has a direct effect on physiology, impacting blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormone levels and immune function, all of which can contribute to disease and mortality.
For example, a study published last year in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that higher levels of pessimism are linked to unfavorable changes in inflammatory markers and white blood cells.
Tindle and her co-authors found that optimistic types are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors such as eating well, exercising more and smoking less; they’re also more likely to have better social relationships, something that has been associated with positive health outcomes.
Finally, there is some evidence that optimistic women tend to adhere more strictly to medical advice and treatment plans.
The study “confirms what a lot of physicians intrinsically know and experience over and over again, in that the patients who see the world from a more positive view tend to be better patients,” observes cardiologist Elizabeth Klodas, author of “Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Defeating Heart Disease.”
“They are more adherent to their regimen, actually take your advice and follow it, and are much more enthusiastic about making the lifestyle changes that are so critical for cardiovascular disease prevention, whether primary or secondary, after you’ve had an event; they are just better partners in care.”
However, Klodas does raise concerns about the link between optimism and better health: “Is it the chicken or the egg? Are you a better patient because you have an intrinsic optimistic attitude, or do you become more optimistic because your outcomes are better because you’re following a regimen that’s actually helping you get better?”
The study’s authors, too, acknowledge that questions remain. “On the one hand it seems intuitively obvious, but we’re not there yet in terms of the evidence we need in order to say optimism causes better health outcomes,” says Tindle.
“All we can say now is that optimism is associated with better health outcomes, but without following people over a lifetime, we can’t say which came first.”
Although further research is necessary (and underway), Tindle stands firm in her belief that a poor outlook on life is detrimental to health. “The totality of evidence . . . points to the fact that sustained negativity is toxic to health, and I would absolutely say that it’s important for people to try to reduce the amount of it in their lives.”
Coming from a long line of devoted pessimists, I can’t help but wonder how possible it is to revamp your attitude and fill that half-empty glass.
Though genetics do come into play, you’re not necessarily destined for a life of doom and gloom, says James Maddux, a psychology professor at George Mason University. “It’s not a matter of having an optimistic or pessimistic gene, it’s matter of having a brain or nervous system wired more toward the optimistic or pessimistic end, with a lot of room for learning and exerting control over your own outlook of life,” he explains.
“We’re really talking about a continuum with high optimism on one end and low optimism or high pessimism on the other end, and people fall somewhere in between. And probably from time to time, depending on the situation, we move back and forth between some range that’s set by our DNA.”
Maddux and other experts suggest a variety of techniques for moving toward the sunnier side of that spectrum, from cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes such as sleeping more and making additional time for friends, to relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.
“These things do not directly impact optimism, per se, but may make it easier to view the world through a happier, more optimistic lens and increase the general sense of positive feelings,” says Harvard’s Kubzansky. “There’s a lot of room to maneuver; I’m very optimistic about that. We do come into the world with an inherent tendency, but then there’s room to shape it.”
Yet she acknowledges that it’s hard work: “There are lots of ways to achieve it, but I don’t think any are trivial. . . . Different people may get there differently, but at some level there needs to be a commitment on their part to figure out ‘What are my habitual ways of thinking, and how can I change them so other things become habitual?’
There has to be concerted effort and thought put into how you’re going to make meaningful change. That said, I think it can definitely be done.”
Still, Klodas isn’t ready to start prescribing an attitude shift to her cardiology patients just yet. “There are many positives to being more positive, but based on this research, we still don’t know for sure whether an attitude change will actually impact health outcomes,” she says, although she remains, well, optimistic that proof is on the way.
“I hope somebody does a study and shows it, because it would be really nice to work on. I would much rather try to help somebody get a better attitude than prescribe another pill.”
After reading this report, if you feel you suffer from more pessimism than you’d like, and you’d like to increase you quota of optimism, you might want to check out my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. You can see the Table of Contents here, and read the first chapter here.
Loneliness, like happiness, can be contagious, says recent research showing how feeling lonely can make others lonely, too. Below are the details from a report in USA Today. But, if you’d like to have a free measure of your health, including your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health, I’ve designed some assessment tools you can utilize at no cost:
- Assess Your Health – For Adults
- Assess Your Health – For Young Adults
- Assess Your Health – For Teens
- Assess Your Health – For Christian Adults
You can also learn more about the health dangers of loneliness and avoiding loneliness in my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy. You can see the Table of Contents here, and read the first chapter here.
This particular study by John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, builds on recent research showing that happiness is contagious and spreads through social networks.
Cacioppo worked with the two researchers who did the earlier happiness research: Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler, associate professor of political science at the University of California-San Diego.
“When you feel lonely, you have more negative interactions than non-lonely people,” says Cacioppo, who directs the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. “If you’re in a more negative mood, you’re more likely to interact with someone else in a more negative way, and that person is more likely to interact in a negative way.”
But “the effect of contagiousness stops significantly after three degrees of separation,” he says.
The researchers found that next-door neighbors who experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an increase in loneliness among neighbors who were close friends.
“You can use your friends to get you out of negative moods, whereas when you feel more isolated, you act more negatively toward your friends,” he says.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also found that women were more likely than men to report “catching” loneliness and that the chances of becoming lonely were more likely to be caused by changes in their friendship networks rather than among family.
This study, like the happiness research, is based on data from a study of 5,124 people in Framingham, Mass., average age 64. Over a period of years, they completed questionnaires asking how many days during the previous week they experienced a particular feeling.
Psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who studies loneliness, say the contagion finding is a “reasonable idea.”
Olds, co-author of The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century, says loneliness is a universal feeling, but people are embarrassed about it.
“They don’t like to admit they’re lonely because they feel like it’s admitting they’re a loser, when in fact, it’s universal,” she says.
Daniel Russell, a professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University-Ames, says people often have the wrong idea about loneliness.
“You have to keep in mind some people are lonely and have a large number of friends, and some people don’t have any friends and are not lonely,” Russell says.
Because loneliness is associated with various mental and physical illnesses, Cacioppo says, it’s important to help people feel more connected.
“We can actually design urban environments so that loneliness is less likely, and a sense of community is greater,” he says.
Of course, for those of us in faith-communities, we can begin to see how fellowship with each other, while serving and loving each other, can help each of us become and stay more highly healthy.
In my new book (to be released in a couple of weeks), 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People, I have a chapter on “Avoid Loneliness Like the Plague.” Now, another expert and author on loneliness told a session Thursday on the opening day of the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Toronto that “being lonely isn’t bad for you, but staying lonely is!”
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