The World Health Organisation defines health as 'a state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.' With that in mind, it appears a feeling of contentment may be a contributing factor to what constitutes a person's overall health.
But can happiness impact your physical health, and if so, in what way?
Some individuals may find that exercising and taking part in sporty hobbies brings them a sense of fulfilment and happiness, which in turn may bring a range of physical benefits; even walking for 30 minutes on your lunch break could help lower the risk of suffering from a stroke. But will just having a positive mindset have a positive effect on your health?
Although happiness may seem like an ambiguous concept, with people associating the emotion with various activities and relationships they enjoy, our bodies are actually able to indicate our emotions through physiological changes. Back in 2005, a paper in the Scientific Journal Neurobiology of Aging assessed a study whereby participants rated their happiness throughout the working day.
The results indicated that greater happiness is associated with lower salivary cortisol - sometimes dubbed as the 'stress hormone' - both inside and outside of the working environment. This hormone can result in rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis when there is too much of it over a prolonged period.
The study concluded that "these results suggest that positive affective states are linked to favourable health outcomes through their influence on health-related biology".
An accumulation of similar research that spans decades paved the way for a conference at the New Research Building on Harvard's Longwood campus in December of last year. Professors from across the globe looked at ways to translate their findings on the positive link between people's wellbeing and their health, and how to translate this into public policy.
However, there is still much debate about whether 'happiness' itself contributes to better physical health, or whether it works in reverse. For instance, are those who are satisfied with life more likely to exercise, eat fruit, and less likely to smoke? One key study within the past two years has stated that "happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates" and that there is a confusion between the cause and effect of unhappiness and disease, i.e. being ill makes us unhappy; being unhappy does not make us ill.
Although there is a range of evidence for and against the relationship between happiness and ailments, there are still numerous areas of life whereby being happy can have a positive effect in other senses.
One study has suggested that there is a correlation between increased happiness and spending our money on new experiences rather than materialistic items. So, in the pursuit of happiness, could we find ourselves trying new things?
Many habits and acts have been linked with a way to improve mood; ranging from drinking coffee to meditating or even setting yourself goals. Some other activities which Britons find make them happier are:
Many people say that money is not the way to happiness, however recent research suggests that depending on what you spend money on, and how you invest it can actually give a positive boost to your happiness levels.
Jessie Gallan, who was the oldest woman in Scotland at 109-years-old, said that her key to happiness and health was staying single, getting plenty of exercise and eating porridge every morning, whereas Gertude Weaver who lived to be 116 in Arkansas claimed her long life was down to kindness. She said, "Use a lot of skin moisturiser, treat everyone nice, love your neighbour and eat your own cooking. Don't eat at fast food places."
The pursuit of happiness means different things to different people; it could involve spending time with loved ones, or something more adventurous like a skydive. If it's travel that makes you happy, you may want to consider comparing travel insurance quotes before your next getaway.
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