Researchers Study Connection Between Happiness and Health
> 1/4/2008 11:27:07 AM

New Year's resolutions often reflect our desires to live happier and healthier lives, and past research has already demonstrated that by becoming happier, we may also be able to improve our health. Although the correlation between emotional states and health has long been observed, few studies have explored the reasons why happiness and good health often go hand in hand. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers examined some of the biological mechanisms involved when positive emotions impact our health.

The study included 2,873 healthy British adults aged 50 to 74. The subjects collected samples of their saliva, once upon waking, once again 30 minutes later, and then at four additional times throughout the course of the day. After collecting each sample, they recorded their mood, measured as the extent to which they felt "happy, excited, or content." By analyzing the saliva, the researchers found that subjects who recorded positive moods more often during the day had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone we produce while under stress and which, when produced at high levels, can contribute to high blood pressure, obesity, and a weakened immune system. These results remained significant even when the researchers took into account other factors that might have affected cortisol levels, including age, gender, weight, smoking, income, time of waking, and depression.

In addition to cortisol, the researchers also investigated the correlation between positive emotions and the subjects' levels of c-reactive protein and interleukin 6, two proteins which indicate inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor in many serious health conditions, including heart disease and cancer. The researchers found that positive emotions were associated with lower levels of these proteins in women, although this was not the case for men. Perhaps future studies will investigate why this difference exists.

There are probably other factors involved in the good health of happy people, notably that people who are generally happy may be more inclined to lead healthier lifestyles. It's also possible that some people are less happy because they are less healthy. While these other explanations exist and should not be dismissed, the results of this study suggest that positive emotions may have an impact on health by preventing inflammation in women as well as reducing cortisol levels in both men and women, making us less vulnerable to illness.

From this study, we can see the ways in which emotional and physical health intertwine and recognize that happiness is an important factor in physical as well as mental well-being. We can develop a healthier lifestyle by eating well and exercising, but we should not underestimate the benefits of engaging in activities we enjoy and making time for the people who make us happy. Researchers should continue to study this link to better understand the ways in which our emotional states affect our health.

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