Stress can have many causes but one that applies to many of us is in how we look at and deal with life situations. Positive coping strategies help keep stress low but having a negative outlook or expectation about things can cause us no end of stress.
Given that stress is linked with illness, it might be no real surprise to learn that a positive outlook can have health-giving effects. At the very least, positivity spares us some stress but it seems to also have immune-boosting effects, as you can see below.
I’ve collected together 5 of my favourite pieces of research that link attitude and happiness with health and even lifespan. Here they are:
1) A Positive Outlook is good for the heart
Optimists are less likely to get heart disease than pessimists. A study of 999 people over the age of 65 found that optimists had a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists.
Much of this is because of the way in which we mentally and emotionally process daily events in life. People with a more positive attitude generally get less irritated and stressed with the challenges of life. Due to the impact of stress on the cardiovascular and immune systems, learning to cultivate a sense of optimism can add years to a person’s life.
2) Happiness helps us get over the cold
People who are happy, lively and calm have better immune systems. One study saw nasal drops of the cold and flu virus given to 193 people between the ages of 21 and 55 and discovered that those who were happier and more positive (defined as a positive emotional style) got less sick and recovered faster.
How we feel affects the immune system and therefore our ability to fight off a cold or even our risk of catching one in the first place.
3) Counting blessings improves happiness
If you wanted a simple tool to increase your happiness then look no further than counting blessings. People who count their blessings tend to be happier than those who don’t. A study compared people keeping a list of blessings with people listing their hassles and found that the blessings group were 25% happier than the hassles group.
A simple exercise that I use is to catch yourself a few times a day and ask, ‘what am I grateful for right now?’ It helps to create a habit of counting blessings. Happiness is a side-effect.
4) A Positive outlook about ageing helps us live longer
A positive attitude can add years to our lives. One study examined 660 people and found that those who felt positive about getting older lived seven and a half years longer than those with a negative outlook about ageing.
Whether we can think of ageing in a positive way or a negative way matters. Even how we act – whether we act younger or older than our real age – also plays a part in how quickly we age. Mindset gives us far more control over the ageing process than most people realise.
5) Smiling helps us live longer
Research shows that people who genuinely smile (who use the muscles beside their eyes – known as the orbicularis oculi) are more likely to live past the age of 80 than people who don’t genuinely smile.
Despite what many people think, you can train yourself to smile more. One ‘laughter yoga’ exercise is to take a deep breath in and then laugh on the exhale. Of course, you will be faking it at first but in time you will start to properly laugh. Doing this a few times a day exercises the orbicularis oculi muscle, training ourselves to smile more easily and genuinely.
Copyright 2013 David R. Hamilton PhD.