Health and Happiness: Harness the Power of Positive Thinking and Enjoy Surprising Health Benefits

The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised. ~Norman Vincent Peale

What is the real power of positive thinking? A huge boost to your health and happiness.

According to positive psychology and happiness research studies, positive thinking can really change your life. Not only can it help you live a happier, healthier and more satisfying life, but it can also help you live a longer life.

Health and Happiness: Harness the Power of Positive Thinking and Enjoy Surprising Health Benefits

Boosting your happiness can boost your health and help you live longer.

Happiness and other positive emotions have surprisingly powerful health benefits. They appear to make the immune system function better and provide a protective effect against some diseases. By understanding the science of happiness and applying the research findings, not only can people enjoy greater life satisfaction — but they can also live longer.

Happiness, positive thinking and related mental states, such as, hopefulness, optimism and contentment appear to decrease the risk or limit the severity of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases as well as colds and upper-respiratory infections.

People who rate higher for happiness on psychological tests develop about 50% more antibodies than average in response to flu vaccines. A Dutch study of elderly patients showed that those with upbeat mental states reduced the risk of death by 50% over the nine-year duration of the study.

In contrast, clinical depression — which is the extreme opposite of happiness — has been shown to worsen heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

A 10-year study on optimism tracking 1300 men was done by Laura Kubzansky, a Harvard psychologist. This study showed that rates for heart disease among men who called themselves optimistic were half the rates for men who didn’t consider themselves optimists.

The health effect associated with optimism was much bigger than was expected — this was as big as the difference between smokers and nonsmokers.

The effect of optimism on pulmonary function was also studied. Poor pulmonary function can lead to cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and premature mortality. In this study, optimists did much better than pessimists.

In another study looking at mental states that are associated with optimism, such as, hopefulness and curiosity, Laura Kubzansky was working with Duke psychologist and lead researcher, Laura Richman. They found that hopefulness and curiosity were protective against hypertension, diabetes and upper-respiratory infection.

What are potential biochemical clues to the mind-body connection supporting the health benefits of happiness, positive thinking and other positive mental states?

How the mind affects the body’s biochemical processes is not clear. There are some clues to the mind-body connection provided by a study done by Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin.

When Buddhist Monks experienced bliss as they entered a trance-like state deep in meditation, the left pre-frontal lobe of their brain crackled with increased electrical activity at a tremendous rate. They were also found to have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Cortisol is known to depress immune function. These studies suggest that optimists may have less response to stress compared to pessimists thereby avoiding the harmful effects triggered by stress.

By having greater understanding of happiness, scientists can create new treatments and improve current treatments to combat clinical depression — these findings may also be useful in promoting or enhancing happiness. In turn, greater happiness may lead to people having better health and living longer.

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