Health and happiness go hand in hand. For example, we know that exercise triggers the release of endorphins, that movement can be a great way to discharge strong emotions like anxiety or anger, and that staying fit gives you the energy to manage the demands of your day, thus reducing stress. Conversely, we know that toxic emotions are bad for your body. Chronic stress can compromise your immune functioning, disrupt your hormonal balance and cause physical aches and pains. Mood disorders can disrupt your sleeping patterns, leading to a whole range of potential health risks including heart disease, hypertension and even Alzheimer’s disease.
The health benefits of happiness stretch far beyond simply neutralising stress or reducing risk factors for disease. Optimistic people actually live longer than their pessimistic peers. This is partly explained by the fact that people with a positive outlook tend to adopt a healthier lifestyle but they also recover faster from illness and injuries suggesting there might actually be physiological benefits that come from having a positive outlook on life.
Similarly, people with a sense of purpose are less likely to show genetic expression of inflammation in the body and people who practice compassion have been shown to have longer telomeres (those are the caps on the end of your DNA strands that shorten with illness and ageing).
It seems that ensuring you get your daily dose of positivity is just what the doctor ordered, so here’s a reminder of some fast ways to adopt a more optimistic outlook and start reaping the health benefits.
1. Count your blessings
Gratitude is probably the number one way to turn around a low mood and boost your positivity. Whether you do it formally by keeping a gratitude journal or simply acknowledge in your own mind the things and people you appreciate, the benefits of gratitude are immediate and profound. You can take it up a notch by telling people in person or in writing how much you appreciate them.
2. Savour the good things
‘Savouring’ is a positive psychology practice that involves plumbing all the joy out of a positive experience. The important thing about savouring is that it doesn’t only apply to the joy you might be experiencing in the present moment. You can savour the anticipation of something you’re looking forward to and you can also savour a happy memory. In fact some research has shown that the anticipation of a happy event can have more powerful mood boosting effects than the event itself, so it pays to intentionally focus on the things you are looking forward to (without wishing away the present moment of course!)
3. Do something for others
Volunteering has been repeatedly shown to boost people’s wellbeing and satisfaction with life. The key is to choose a cause that you feel passionately about and devote an hour or so each week or fortnight. We’re all time poor these days but taking some time out to walk dogs at your local animal rescue or serve meals at a homeless shelter can make a huge difference to your life and the lives of others. Focusing outwardly takes your attention away from your own problems, gives you a sense of perspective and interestingly, it raises your own opinion of yourself. When you do something that reinforces that you are a good person, your sense of self-worth gets a boost. And most importantly, there is real joy to be experienced in witnessing someone else’s joy and appreciation for something you have done.