Health And Happiness: Uncovering The Connection
Over time, studies have shown that health and happiness are intrinsically linked. When you feel physically healthy, your mood may also improve, and vice versa. Understanding the connections between positive emotions and well-being can help you make the healthiest lifestyle choices to improve your mental and physical health.
How Happiness Can Improve Health
According to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, “feeling sad can alter levels of stress-related opioids in the brain and increase levels of inflammatory proteins in the blood that are linked to increased risk of comorbid diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and metabolic syndrome.”
Another study showed that unhappiness could contribute to poor health, and an article published by Harvard Health describes recent research regarding the link between positive emotions and health. Compared to the vast number of studies regarding the harmful health effects of poorly-managed emotions, research on the link between happiness and wellness is not as extensive or readily available. Our ability to measure such intangibles like a sense of optimism or joy is difficult, especially in terms of affecting public health outcomes.
Happiness also seems to be a factor in boosting the efficacy of the immune system, with research showing that mood affected cytokine response to flu viruses. One form of happiness (a sense of life meaning) was linked to lower reported pain levels, and less distress in those who live with chronic pain. We do know that less stress plays a positive role in promoting better health (for example, those who report less stress have a lower risk for health problems like heart attack), but researchers also report that those who are happier are also more likely to engage in behaviors that contribute to make them healthier overall, such as regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Happier people tend to be healthier people, and vice versa.
Exploring The Brain And Gut Connection
You may have heard of an event described as “gut-wrenching” or experienced “butterflies in your stomach” when anticipating a new or uncertain situation. For many, stress induces gut-related side effects like heartburn, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. This response showcases the direct link between mental health and the stomach.
While studies show a close interaction between the brain and the gut, stress-related stomach issues are not “all in your head.” Harvard Health explains that researchers found that along with genetic predisposition, stress, depression, and other psychological factors can affect the movement and contractions of the GI tract. Mental health conditions and physical health concerns are often connected.
Due to this connection, reducing stress or treating mental health conditions may aid in improving gut function and easing chronic stress-related stomach issues. Recent clinical reviews of specific psychotherapy treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), may be useful in helping clients cope with persistent gastrointestinal distress.
The Emotional Effect Of Movement
The connection between exercise and health is primarily accepted as a fact. Additionally, some studies have uncovered a positive link between physical activity and being generally satisfied with life overall. According to a recent study published by the National Library of Medicine, an extensive survey in 24 countries showed that 18–30-year-old young adults with moderate or high physical activity had higher life satisfaction, happiness, and better-perceived health. Although the connection is not entirely clear, happy people tend to enjoy better physical health overall.
Furthermore, the positive effect of movement is not limited to physical exercise. In a TEDx Talk, dance-movement therapist Dr. Tal Shafir explains that specific movements affect emotion. For example, smiling can “trick” your brain into feeling happy. Other movements, such as stretching, yoga, or practicing deep breathing, can also positively affect your emotional state. Healthy people are often those who take into consideration not only the body, but the mind as well.
Strengthening The Connection Between Body And Mind
As researchers uncover the connection between health and happiness, it may become apparent that improving and maintaining both aspects can significantly improve the overall quality of our lives. Still, figuring out where to begin a journey of self-improvement can be a tremendous task.
Initially, it may be helpful to identify problem areas in your life, either physical or emotional. Since not all physical symptoms result from emotional distress, it can be valuable to manage your health with the help of a medical professional. For example, if you experience chronic physical discomforts such as stomach pain or indigestion, first consult a physician to explore the root cause of these issues further.
Learn How Chronic Stress, Pain, And Mental Wellness Are Related
Often, proper mental health management can reduce physical discomfort. However, experiencing physical discomfort can make reaching out to an in-person therapist difficult. In these cases, online talk therapy can be highly effective in treating the physical symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. In addition, online therapy allows clients to choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with their therapist.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be a practical and productive way to identify personal difficulties and learn to manage emotions. According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is based on several core principles, including:
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- People living with psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and feeling more effective in their lives.
A licensed therapist can offer personalized treatment and guidance to improve your concerns or conditions. They can also offer support in achieving personal goals related to a focus on positive psychology and outlook in your own life. The American Psychological Association emphasizes that “CBT differs from many other forms of psychological treatment” due to “ample scientific evidence that the methods that have been developed actually produce change.”
Furthermore, CBT has seen significant advancement in research in recent years. An uptick in digital mental health intervention has increased availability of affordable online therapy options through platforms like BetterHelp, which offer matched-based systems to help clients receive quality support from home.
Along with therapy and mental health management, maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is often considered beneficial to overall health and happiness. Implementing a daily outdoor walk or incorporating more greens and proteins into your diet may be manageable first steps to strengthening the connection between your health and happiness.
How is health related to happiness?
Research suggests that individuals who self-report as happy tend to live longer lives and experience fewer health problems. This may be because those who are happier tend to engage in healthier behaviors like exercise, maintaining close relationships with others, and spending time in nature, while avoiding risky behaviors like substance use. Those who are happy may also manage stress more effectively, and therefore be less subject to illnesses that are exacerbated by chronic stress.
Is health the key to happiness?
Health may be a key to happiness, though not the only one. Someone who experiences vibrant health can be more likely to experience a more positive outlook and report higher life-satisfaction because they don’t have to deal with stressors that come with chronic illness. However, some otherwise healthy people may experience symptoms of depression due to other factors like trauma, or parents or other family members who have depression.
What is the meaning of health and happiness?
Health and happiness often go hand in hand. They can work together in a kind of positive feedback loop. A person who is happy in general may be more likely to indulge in healthy lifestyle habits, while avoiding negative coping mechanisms that can be harmful to health (such as smoking). Those who are generally healthy may be more likely to feel happy if there are no other major traumas in their life. Researchers continue to study these associations as health and happiness seem to be bidirectionally connected, but results are not conclusive at this time.
How can you have good health and promote happiness?
There are some evidence-based practices that offer benefits to both mood and physical health. These include:
- Getting into nature or green spaces. Studies have shown that “forest bathing” or spending time in nature can be good for heart health, bringing down heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
- Spending time with friends or family members that have a generally positive outlook. Research shows that happiness may be contagious, and being around others who are happy can help facilitate a more positive mood.
- Create variety in daily routines. Trying new things, even small things, can have a positive impact on mood.
- Take time for gratitude. Journaling for a few minutes per day about the things that you’re grateful for can be beneficial.
- Get moderate exercise on most days. When you get moving in a way that is fun and appropriate for your body, you can boost markers for health and positive emotion.
Is happiness the highest form of health?
This is a subjective question, but happiness researcher Robert Holden has stated that “There is no true health without happiness”. In a happiness survey conducted by Holden, both health and happiness were highly rated, but 65 of 100 participants reported that they would choose happiness over health.
What are the 5 keys to happiness?
According to Carl Jung, there are 5 keys to happiness. These include:
- Good physical and mental health
- Good relationships
- Ability to perceive beauty in both art and nature
- A philosophy or religion to believe in
- Fulfilling work
What is the most important key to happiness?
There is no one “correct” answer to this highly subjective question. However, a long-running study on happiness conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the happiest people have a couple of common traits: they stay connected with others, and they’ve learned when to let go of things that don’t serve them emotionally. The study also found that older adults tend to focus more on what is important to them and let go of the less important.
Happiness may also be felt in a number of different ways, from pure joy and excitement to a feeling of deep contentment. In fact, research has found that there are 17 different facial expressions that can convey happiness.
Are health and happiness more important than money?
This is a difficult question to answer. An old adage states that money can’t buy happiness, but research shows that those who are wealthier are generally happier. Most people living in poverty are more likely to experience disparity, need, and prejudice. They are also less likely to have healthcare and other safety nets, creating fear and uncertainty. However, other research shows that having a lot of money does not inevitably create happiness. There are other factors at play, including how a person views and uses money.
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