in the spotlight

The Value of Happiness

Is there a connection between psychological and physical well-being?

In hundreds of studies, a connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of disease has been found. Serious, sustained stress or fear can add up to “wear and tear” on the body and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function, hastening atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation. Conversely, lower blood pressure, normal body weight and healthier blood fat profiles have been associated with a better sense of well-being.
The value of happiness is shared world-wide. The United Nations views happiness as “serious business” and has proclaimed March 20 International Day of Happiness. Books have been written on the subject and there is a national Happiness Project movement.

It has been estimated that half of people’s happiness is determined by their genes, about 10% can be attributed to differences in life circumstances or situations, and about 40% of our happiness is up to us – although it varies by person. That’s a lot of happiness under our control. Below are some tools to help make your life happier. Why not pick one and try?

  • Practice kindness. Do something nice for someone else, whether it’s someone you know or a stranger. It can be spur of the moment or planned out. You can do the good deed anonymously or help the beneficiary directly.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. People who kept a weekly gratitude journal actually did more exercise, had fewer physical problems and felt more optimistic about the coming week and life in general.
  • Get spiritual. There’s plenty of research showing that people who participate in their local church, synagogue, mosque or other preferred spiritual community are happier. Even reading spiritual literature can be helpful. Not religious? There are ethical societies and movements that get people thinking beyond themselves.
  • strong>Buy experiences, not stuff. A vacation with loved ones or buying tickets to a show or concert will make you happier than buying another gadget.
    Buy stuff that creates experiences. So you still want to buy something? How about gear that allows you to have experiences in your areas of interest, such as games or music? These material items allow you an opportunity to engage with people you care about. Even board games count, since you can play them with a friend.
  • Stop hanging out on social media so much. People who spend more time on Facebook and other social media report lower self-esteem, less connection to others, fewer positive emotions and even more homesickness (for college students).
  • Stop checking your email. People who check their email all the time are more stressed than people who check their email just three times daily, according to a recent study.
    Focus on time, not money. Although people typically focus on money, focusing on time often helps people realize that time is a precious resource. That knowledge helps them be more deliberate in how they spend it.
  • Lose yourself in your activities. Do you remember the time you “lost” yourself because you were having so much fun playing tennis, gardening, sailing, learning a new musical instrument, woodworking or baking the perfect pie? Increase the number of opportunities to “lose” yourself in a new or old activity that occupies your brain and body.
    Embrace failure. Failing is way to learn what doesn’t work before we learn what does work. People who succeed often fail many times before they succeed. Failing helps us acquire the experiences and learning lessons we need to become successful.