Happiness and Heart Health – How Are They Connected?
Living in the 21st century, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the different factors that supposedly affect health. We are told that stress has hugely negative effects on our mental health, weight, and heart health too. But what about happiness? If we are stressed less than we must have better overall health… right? But the question then becomes, if we don’t feel happiness, how does it affect our heart health and wellbeing? Take a look at the connection between happiness and the heart and see what changes you can make to improve your blood-pumper!
What is Happiness?
Happiness has always been difficult to define. Is it regarding the amount of money you have? Is it whether or not you have someone to smile with each day? Or is it simply knowing that you have the essentials you require to be at peace each day. Every person will define it differently depending on their priorities and current state of well-being. Dictionary.com defines the word ‘happiness’ as “the quality or state of being happy” as well as “good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” But does this tell us enough of what we need to know to measure our own levels of happiness and make the changes to attain more joy?
How Do We Measure Happiness?
Although some may say that happiness is something we cannot measure, some psychologists disagree. According to an article from Psychology Today, in order to measure happiness, researchers often use 5 different methods to predict how happy someone is:
- Biological (ex. hormones, serotonin levels that can help determine depression)
- Behavioral (ex. smiling and laughing)
- Implicit Measures (ex. “reaction time to connect positive and negative terms”)
- Reports from Others (ex. friends, family, loved ones)
When we understand that there are ways to measure it, we can begin to understand how happiness truly affects the body and heart health!
The Effects of Happiness on Your Health
Being happy can do a lot of good for us – that is what hundreds of researchers, doctors, and mental health professionals will tell us. Not only do we generally ‘feel’ better, but our body reaps the benefits too! Being happy can:
- Strengthen your immune system
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress levels
- Reduce pain
- Improve productivity
- Improve mental health
- Lengthen your life expectancy
- Promote a healthy lifestyle
- Improve your heart health
The Effects of Happiness on Your Heart Health
Research has found that when a person is happy they often show signs of a lowered heart rate and lowered blood pressure. This means that our heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood throughout our body, and does not experience as much strain or pressure on the arteries and blood vessels.
The effects of happiness on our hearts are quite the opposite of those of stress (which tend to increase the likelihood for heart disease). When this risk of heart disease is lowered, the likelihood of experiencing a stroke or cardiac arrest also decreases, leaving you to live a long and healthy life!
What the Research Suggests
A study done by the Columbia University in 2009 set out to see how happiness affected 1739 adult’s heart health. Each individual was assessed over a period of 10 years in which they reviewed the level of happiness in each person’s life and the health of their heart. Using methods such as interviews, symptom scales and inventories, and recurring health check-ups, the researches observed each individuals state of happiness and compared it to their heart health. After the 10-year period was up, the study concluded that:
“… increased positive affect was associated with a reduced risk of 10-year incident [Coronary Heart Disease], even after adjustment for depressive symptoms, hostility, and anxiety.”
The take-away being, that if we strive to improve our lives to ensure we are happy, our hearts will benefit in the long run!
How to ‘Be Happier’
Do What You Enjoy
When we spend all of our time doing the things we (eg: dread getting up every morning to go to a job we despise), our happiness (and heart health) suffers. One way to increase your happiness is to do things you enjoy. You may not be able to quit your job (food still needs to get on to the table and bills need to be paid), but perhaps considering a career change, or finding a hobby or activity you enjoy outside of work! Find joy in those opportunities and seek them out every day.
Love and Connect with Others
There are a number of studies that have researched the link between love and heart health too! Many people feel that being in-love, or having the feeling of being loved results in a happier you. As well, love is good for your cardiovascular health! Surround yourselves with positive people who give you love and whom you can return that love to.
DID YOU KNOW…
Just as people feel happier when they are in-love or feel loved, when a heart is broken, it can actually do a lot of harm to your heart health! There have been instances of individuals who lost their spouse or partner and have passed away of a broken heart! Protect your heart and love those around you each and every day.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
If we sit on the couch eating junk food all day, then our happiness levels are going to drop. We will gain weight, feel sluggish and tired, and start to feel unhappy (this also has to do with a hormonal change in our brain we experience when inactive and become depressed). Change your lifestyle to include weekly exercise, a balanced diet, and time getting fresh air!
Reflect and Be Grateful
Some research has found that when people take time out of their day to reflect on the things they are grateful for, it can improve mood. Gratitude can be practiced through the use of thank-you cards, keeping a journal of the things you are thankful for, meditating, praying, or choosing to see the positive in each situation.
Ask for Help
If you have been struggling to find happiness in your life, asking others for help is a good first step. Find a friend you trust, speak with a family member, or set up a time to meet with a psychologist who may be able to assist you in your pursuit of happiness. It is important that if you are struggling with depression or another mental health issue to seek support. Improving our mental health is another great way that we can boost our happiness as well as help our hearts!
Find happiness in the things you do, the people you are with, the health you have, and the places you go! Once you find that joy, hang on to it and continue to live life, love it, and laugh until your sides hurt!