Health and Happiness: Why You Need Both

Health and Happiness: Why You Need Both

May 25 2016

Are we happy because we are healthy? Or does a positive mental and emotional state actually protect our health?

By: Catherine Cooley and Becky Moorehead

Happiness and good health go hand-in-hand. In fact, recent studies conducted by the University College London’s department of Epidemiology and Public Health revealed that our mental state may play a more important role in our physical health than was previously thought. Scientific studies have been finding that happiness can lead to healthier hearts, stronger immune systems and longer lives. It also has been shown to improve the health and longevity in those living with a chronic disease, the elderly and those faced with a health crisis such as cancer.

With so much to gain, what steps can you take to improve your psychological well-being and reap the health benefits?

The power of positivity

Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is the key that determines how we live our lives.

Positive thinking has been shown to result in an array of health benefits, including: lower rates of depression and anxiety, increased life span, improved job satisfaction and even greater resistance to the common cold. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you’re better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way.

If you tend to be a pessimistic thinker, don’t despair—it has been shown that positive thinking skills can be learned. While some people are born with a naturally sunny disposition, positive thinking, like any other skill, must be honed over time with practice.

Start by being intentional about your thoughts; make a conscious choice to adopt a positive attitude. Begin by catching negative, self-deprecating thoughts and turning them into positive ones.

To put positive thinking into practice, begin making a list of two or three great things that happened throughout the day. A recent study in the Journal of Research in Personality found that making a “happy list” for just three days straight has a lasting effect on mood.

“Your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits…” – Ghandi

Find meaning and purpose

Studies find that having a sense of meaning and purpose improves both physical and mental well-being. Research conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that those with a strong sense of purpose were 52 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and 44 percent less likely to have a stroke.

Having a sense of meaning in life is associated with “giving” behavior, and is often a result of contributing to others or society. People need meaning and purpose to truly thrive. For many, identifying your purpose may not be obvious and may be something that gradually emerges or develops over time.

Here’s a few tips to help you find your purpose:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Focus your attention on the positive things in your life.
  • Pay it forward. Clean out your old clothes and donate them to someone in need, bake cookies for new neighbors, or write a positive Yelp review about a local business you like.
  • Do what you love. Ask yourself what you love doing, and then search for ways to incorporate that into your daily life.
  • Live in the moment. Be present for the journey and fully embrace it, “unplug” from technology that distracts you.
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Stay connected

We all know the health benefits associated with a healthy diet and regular exercise routine. What many of us do not know is that social connection may be just as important to our health, both physically and mentally. A recent University Of Michigan study showed that lack of social connection may be a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

The most interesting fact about connection is that it has nothing to do with the number of friends you have on Facebook. Our sense of connection is internal, meaning if you feel connected to others on the inside, you reap the benefits. Find ways to strengthen your sense of connection by volunteering for a local cause that you support, joining a workplace group or by reconnecting with old friends.  

Seek Support

Take advantage of health insurance benefits which may offer support and connect you with local resources. Many tools and programs are available that use cognitive behavioral therapy to help you de-stress and learn strategies to combat negative thoughts.

When we are free of depression, anxiety, excessive stress and worry, we are able to live our lives to the fullest. Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is the key that determines how we live our lives. Making this choice today will lead to positive mental and physical health outcomes now and in the future. As the famous psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”

About the Authors: Catherine Cooley, CHWC, is a Health Coach at Priority Health. She is passionate about supporting Priority Health members on their journey to wellness and achieving their personal best. Catherine is a certified weight management specialist through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and a lifestyle coach through the National Kidney Foundation’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

Becky Moorehead, LMSW, is a Clinical Program Specialist in the Behavioral Health Department at Priority Health.  She provides telephonic screening and support to Priority Health members struggling with depression, anxiety, and/or high levels of stress.  She is also a certified health and wellness coach.