EDITION: February - April 2018

Happiness keeps you healthy

By Jerry Brownstein
All of us feel better when we are happy, and now medical science is finding proof for the health benefits of positive emotions. The evidence shows that people who are happy are less impacted by everyday stressors, and this ability to deflect stress is responsible for many of the gains in their health. A review of more than 200 studies has found that positive psychological well-being is linked to less risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, healthier body weight and overall physical fitness. The studies also showed that among those over 60, feelings of happiness and enjoyment were associated with improved mobility and a lower risk of developing a disability. Positive emotions also play a significant role in boosting your immune system. One study found that when happy people are exposed to cold and flu viruses they are less likely to get sick, and if they do become ill they have milder symptoms.

It has even been scientifically proven that happiness can alter your genes. This falls into the realm of epigenetics - the way that our emotions can change the functions of our genes by turning them off and on. Professor Steven Cole of the University of California has spent several decades investigating the connection between our emotions and our biology. His team of researchers have found proof that our level of happiness not only affects the function of your immune cells, but it also influences the behaviour of your genes. Their research shows that stressful (unhappy) experiences cause your genes to produce harmful inflammation, but feelings of happiness and well-being create genetic responses that strengthen your antiviral and antibody protections.

In other words, when you are stressed and unhappy your cells feel those emotions and this causes damage and disease in your body. So how can you make your cells more “happy”? Professor Cole says that, “One way is through mind-body practices, like meditation, which have been shown to cultivate positive and happy immune cells. Previous research has linked meditation to many health benefits, and now we are finding out that it can actually change the structure of your DNA.”