Happiness can be defined as a person's experience of well-being. It can be described as feelings of joy and pleasure or having a sense of purpose. Happiness is a complicated concept, has a complex meaning, and is composed of several factors.
Researchers have been trying to understand the link between happiness and health for decades. Are people unhappy because they're unhealthy, or unhealthy because they're unhappy? It's a tricky question, but researchers find that good health and happiness can go hand-in-hand.
Studies continue to identify health behavior clusters that established the association between the "low substance use and good dietary habit" cluster and high happiness levels. However, the causality of the relationship between health behavior and happiness remains unclear, highlighting the need for further research to elucidate the underlying mechanisms.
Studies have shown that health and happiness are intrinsically linked. When you feel physically healthy, your mood may improve, and vice versa. Understanding the connections between positive emotions and well-being can help you make the healthiest lifestyle choices to improve your mental and physical health. There are various theories for why health may lead to happiness. Some research suggests that people feel happier when they take better care of themselves. Some research indicates that healthier people have a more positive outlook. Still, other research suggests that an underlying factor such as genetics or personality contributes to both.
A 2019 review published in JAMA Network Open suggested promoting an optimistic mindset could be good preventive medicine. Some research suggests that happiness can benefit your immune system. Studies show that negative emotions may impair immune response. There's also evidence that happiness can benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems, influence hormones and inflammation levels, and speed wound healing. It's even been linked to longer telomeres, protein caps on the end of chromosomes that get shorter with age.
So, if being happier can benefit physical health, what can you do to boost your happiness and well-being? Happiness is a personal thing, and it's connected with many other factors and opportunities in our lives. While no quick fix can improve your happiness overnight, these simple habits are easy to incorporate into your daily routine and may help you improve your sense of well-being.
Research shows that regular exercise and physical activity can significantly affect happiness. One study of 2,345 healthy adults found that people with high and moderate activity levels have much higher life satisfaction and happiness than those with low activity levels. However, again, this study examined correlation, not causation. Meaning that other undefined factors could be at play, influencing both physical activity and happiness. Other studies show that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is the most beneficial type of exercise for people's sense of well-being.
Some research shows that people who sleep poorly or experience sleep deprivation are likelier to compare their lives to others and savor their positive experiences less. These effects may eventually lead to less happiness and increased stress. On the contrary, people who get enough sleep tend to be more satisfied with life. More long-term research is still needed to confirm these findings and determine more causative links. Other studies have shown that people who often had interrupted sleep may experience less slow-wave sleep, significantly lowering positive mood, helping to explain the common link between insomnia and depression partially.
Food and Mood
There's also a connection between food and mood! Eating habits that include nutrient-dense foods providing adequate nourishment and antioxidant support may encourage improved mood. More and more research shows a significant relationship between the gut and the brain. Certain foods can strengthen the gut microbes that support mental health, such as fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, and veggies, which are high in fiber.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
A recent 2021 study had participants attend nine months of mental training sessions where they practiced mindfulness techniques. As participants went through the training sessions, they experienced an increase in their life satisfaction levels and ability to exercise control over their attention to negative emotions. Other studies have shown that a greater meditation frequency is linked to increased self-kindness, self-compassion, observation, and awareness. These all contribute to greater feelings of happiness.
Studies have shown that at least two hours outdoors per week can increase one's sense of well-being and relieve stress. Similar studies show that time outdoors may improve self-esteem and mood.
Spending time with loved ones and creating meaningful relationships has also been linked to a happy life. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a famous study that tracks the development of children through periodic interviews and health checks. The study has found over almost 80 years that social connections and relationships are among the most important factors for happiness.
Researchers define psychological flexibility as recognizing and adapting to various situational demands and shifting mindsets or behavior when needed. This can also mean being aware, open, and committed to behaviors that hold up to your values. In studies, people with this skill rely on personally meaningful values to guide their decisions and actions. This may lead to more frequent experiences of joy and meaning in life and less distress.
Of course, those struggling with depression will require more help. As with diets, there's no one-size-fits-all, fast solution. Everyone will have different needs to increase their ability to see the world more positively. Remind yourself that even though you're not in the best mood, if you're working toward long-term goals, some immediate discomfort shouldn't prevent you from achieving overall happiness.