A Happy, Healthy You

"A cheerful heart is a good medicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones." Proverbs (17:22). It turns out that happiness may in fact be one of the most important keys to good health.

It's a big, happy cycle… Healthy people might be happier, and people who are happy and satisfied with their lives might be healthier.

On a number of varied and important indicators, happy people have better physical health than their less cheerful counterparts.

Happy people have younger hearts, younger arteries, lower blood pressure, a greater tolerance for better pain, and recover more quickly from surgery. Their immune systems are even more resistant stronger immune systems - happy people are less likely to get colds and flu viruses, and when they do, their symptoms tend to be mild. Happiness appears to protect against falling ill in general.

But the best indicator of all may be longevity: happy people have a longer life expectancy than unhappy people. In a broad-based study of adults aged 65 and older, the happy people in the study were half as likely to die and half as likely to become disabled as compared to people who were generally sad.

Not surprisingly, happy people are better at looking after their health, too. When people's happiness levels improve, so do their health behaviors. They exercise more, wear sunscreen, and go for regular checkups.

But does your current health affect your happiness? Actually, there seems to be little correlation between a person's objective health-as defined by medical assessment-and happiness. It's our subjective health-how we view our health-that affects our well-being.

Of course, poor health does have the potential to negatively affect almost every aspect of our lives. So it's no surprise that when your health takes a hit, your happiness does, as well. But that effect seems to be temporary; within a month or two of an adverse health event, most people have gravitated back toward the level of happiness they enjoyed before their health took a turn for the worse.

When the change in health status is severe, however-for example, involving chronic pain or multiple disabilities-the impact on happiness can be long-lasting. And both physical health and emotional health influence happiness. Mood disorders diminish quality of life even more than chronic physical ailments, such as arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes.

Other than health, what influences your happiness? While as much as 40-50% of a person's capacity for happiness may be genetically predetermined, the rest is up to you. Here are a few ways to up your daily happiness quotient:

Stay optimistic: Happy people experience about the same amounts of negative and positive life events as sad people. But studies show that happy people dwelled on the positive more often. People who are positive remember the good events in their lives more readily, while they tend to remember fewer of the unhappy times. Similarly, when confronted with a problem, happy people believe they will soon regain control of their lives while unhappy people are more skeptical.

Research shows that life satisfaction trickles up from tiny, positive events that occur every day-not down from what you have or what you think you need. Ultimately, positive emotions predict your satisfaction with life, not the other way around. So rather than focus on the things you think should improve your quality of life, cultivate the tiniest of moments that make you feel good

Exercise: Exercise not only helps keep you healthy, it also keeps you happy. In general, increasing the amount of physical activity in your life increases well-being. Moderate exercise offers the biggest boost in happiness. In fact studies show that jogging for 30 minutes three times a week can be as good as psychotherapy in treating depression; but if jogging isn't for you, any type of exercise can reduce depressive symptoms.

Volunteer: People who volunteer reported higher levels of happiness. As the saying goes, "If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody."

Maintain relationships. Having a strong support system made up of healthy relationships and friendships promotes happiness.

Nurture your faith: Religious faith is one of the most important factors in predicting life satisfaction. You surely know this from your own life, but study after study confirms that actively religious people are happier, and that they cope better with crises and stress.

So live your life with a cheerful heart – it really is good medicine.

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