Can Happiness Improve Health?

In a word, yes.

Of course, science tends to complicate things.  “Subjective well-being,” which measures how people evaluate their lives, has been examined in a comprehensive review for its impact on various aspects of physical health. The results were first published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being on July 14, 2017. Let me save you the trouble of reading the original —  there is “almost no doubt” that happiness really can influence health. That’s the opinion of the lead author, Edward Diener, who is professor of social psychology at the University of Utah.

I’m sure you’ve suspected the same thing. But inquiring (scientific) minds want to know, which is why this paper references over 20 previous literature reviews and more than 150 individual studies. And taking this a step further, exactly what is the happiness-to-health link? Theories include —

 — Happy people likely take better care of themselves through behaviors like exercising, eating well and getting adequate sleep.

 — Happiness can benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems, influence hormones and inflammation levels and even speed wound healing. It might possibly lead to longer telomeres, those protein caps on the end of chromosomes that shorten as we age, although more research is needed here. 

Unfortunately, right now these links are still in the realm of speculation. Many of the cited studies suggest better health could improve emotional states, rather than vice versa. There are so many factors that can influence both happiness and health, and since most of these studies were observational, it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions.

Plus accepting the rather strong evidence that “subjective well-being” can influence health leads to another question — why does happiness seem to help the health of some people, but not others? “It’s just like cigarettes: We don’t know why some people live to 100 even though they smoke, while others die of cancer at 50 and never smoked a day in their life,” explains Professor Diener. “Being happy certainly isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to be healthy, and it’s true that some studies haven’t found an effect.”

But until we have more research, I think the message is clear — it’s better to have positive emotions than negative ones. In other words, be happy!

Taken from “It’s Official: Happiness Really Can Improve Health” by Amanda MacMillan (

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