The Science of Happiness and Health

By Moira Shaw, Health Promotion & Wellness PortfolioAugust 3, 2011

A happy life leads to a healthy life and a healthy life leads to a happy life. The effects of happiness on health are strong and universal. A recent Gallup Poll with 150,000 representatives of 140 countries found that happiness has a stronger association with physical health than access to basic human needs such as food, shelter and personal safety (University of Kansas, 2009).

Greater happiness can even prevent the common cold! In one study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon assessed people’s emotions and then exposed them to the common cold virus. They found that happy people were less likely to develop the common cold than unhappy people. They repeated the experiment with the flu virus and found that happier people are also less likely to get the flu (Carnegie Mellon University, 2006). In addition, studies show that because happier people are less likely to get sick, they live longer (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2008).

Clearly, happiness is universally good for your health. So, where does the pursuit of happiness begin? Fortunately, research also paints a clear picture of what lifestyle choices lead to greater happiness. In 2006, the Pew Research Center polled 3,014 people to see what types of people are happiest. The following tips are based on their findings:

1. Bide your time"Adults 18-29 are less happy than any other adult age group.

2. Believe in something, find a community"People who attend religious services weekly are happier than those who do not.

3. Get educated"College graduates are happier than high school graduates.

4. Make (enough) money"Happiness increases with greater income all the way up to the $100K bracket. After that, money does not buy happiness.

5. Soak up the sun (with sunscreen)"Residents of the sun belt (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and some counties in Nevada and California) are happier than residents of other states.

6. Slow down"Those who feel their lives are rushed report feeling less happy.

7. Get a job (or retire from one)"The employed and the retired are happier than the unemployed.

8. A calling is better than a career"Employees who feel passionate about what they do are happier than those who are waiting anxiously for the weekend.

9. Get married"On average, married people are happier than single people.

10. Stay healthy"Good health leads to greater happiness.

There is an exception to every rule and these are just a few factors that lead to greater happiness. If these tips do not work, consider what will. The reward will be a life filled with both health and happiness.