Happiness is Good for You

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Perhaps the writers of the Declaration of Independence identified the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right because they understood happiness can benefit humanity physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Current and emerging research reveals that happiness, or a lack thereof, directly impacts almost every aspect of our lives. When we are happy, we are better able and more inclined to improve others’ lives, our communities, and the world. Take a look at what researchers tell us about happy people when compared with unhappy people:

Happy people tend to have stronger relationships.

A 2002 study from the University of Illinois conducted by Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that students who were happiest and showed the fewest signs of depression were those with strong ties to friends and family. Happy people tend to have larger, stronger social networks, which is a key to maintaining positive emotions.

Happy people learn and innovate more easily.

In one report, Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, notes that when people become happier, they also become more “creative, integrative, flexible, and open to information.” She found that positive emotions promoted both physical and psychological resilience.

Happy people often earn more.

Father and son researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener found that happy workers earn 30 percent more income than people who are dissatisfied with their lives and careers.

Happy people are generally healthier. A 2007 study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that happy people—those with enthusiasm, hope, and an engagement with life—had a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Another study found that children who had a positive outlook on life at age seven showed better overall health and fewer illnesses thirty years later.

Happy people tend to live longer.

A long-term study of nuns conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky found that 90 percent of the most cheerful nuns were alive at age eighty-five, while just 34 percent of their non-cheerful counterparts were still alive. At age ninety-four, 54 percent of the cheerful nuns were still alive, compared to just 11 percent of the least cheerful nuns. Additionally, a study by the Mayo Clinic found that optimistic people lived 19-percent longer than pessimists. Numerous studies show us that life gets better in many measurable ways when you become happier. More important, your happiness will very likely help make the world a better place. Researchers have discovered that happy people volunteer more and are apt to get involved in social causes far more often than their less happy counterparts.

So how can we live happy? If happiness can be controlled, why don’t we always feel happy? Those are the questions we asked when we launched Live Happy magazine. Our goal wasn’t to help people achieve a temporary rush of giddiness. Instead, we wanted to help people understand and apply scientifically proven strategies that lead to sustainable well-being and overall life satisfaction.

It turns out, the science surrounding happiness is exciting! The work being done by researchers and scientists is changing the global perception of not only what happiness means, but how each and every person can achieve it. Perhaps most encouraging is Lyubomirsky and her co-author’s research, which reveals that, for the average person living in a first-world country, 50 percent of happiness is determined by genetics, 10 percent is determined by circumstances, and a staggering 40 percent is based on our thoughts and actions. In other words, extreme circumstances aside, people can choose to be happier by changing the way they think and respond to life. Simple acts and shifts in attitude and behaviors can effectively improve the way you experience life. But simple doesn’t always equate to easy; happiness takes practice.

We don’t thrive by accident. Living a life that overflows with meaning and sustainable joy, one in which you look forward to each new day, requires a commitment to practice positive habits and attitudes that support and fuel our well-being.

Excerpted from Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah K. Heisz

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