By Joseph L. Roche
We all know that happiness “feels good.” But did you know that it could help you live longer, too?
New studies show that happiness contributes to longevity. People who are happy are less likely to fall ill, according to studies recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Chronic unhappiness causes stress, which reduces the body’s immune response. Being happy can increase one’s chances of adopting a healthy lifestyle.
The good news for those in the second half of their lives is that the American Sociological Review also reported that “happiness increases with age.”
This is consistent with the “age-as-maturity hypothesis,” researchers have said. “With age comes positive psychosocial traits, such as self-integration and self-esteem [which] could contribute to a better sense of overall well-being.”
So How Can You Increase Your Odds of Living a Long and Happy Life?
While it’s comforting to know that studies show that happiness can increase as we age, what can you do to help ensure that you will live a long, happy life?
The new “science of happiness” uses scientific research to determine what factors contribute to higher levels of happiness.
One compendium of such studies came up with seven tested strategies.
Communicating: Numerous studies show that close relationships are important for happiness. One study on the quality of relationships showed that having one close, emotionally intimate relationship with a spouse, sibling or friend contributes to happiness, along with having a network of other casual friendships. Being widowed or living alone can lead to isolation; moving to a senior living community with a built-in network of neighbors is one easy way to make more friends.
Caring: A study in the Journal of Gerontology found that volunteering for as little as two hours per week “was significantly linked to improved well-being and fewer depressive symptoms, specifically in older adults.” Volunteering in the community can help you appreciate what you have, feel valued, and feel happier.
Exercise: It is no surprise that exercise is good for your physical health and well-being. However, studies also show that exercise was as effective as Zoloft in treating depression in older adults (Blumenthal et al., 1999). Exercise has been shown to improve mental cognition as well. Hop on an exercise bike or take a walk to extend your life and boost your mood!
Getting In The Flow: Participating in hobbies and activities that engage us and are stimulating, or “high-flow” activities, is found to contribute to happiness more than “low-flow” passive activities such as watching television. One study of adults ages 70-86, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2009, showed that adults who engaged in activities with a high “quality of flow,” defined as “intense concentration, loss of self-awareness and rewarding outcomes,” reported higher life satisfaction. Be sure to cultivate hobbies, or consider moving to a senior living community that offers a wide range of activities!
Spiritual Engagement: Numerous studies demonstrate a close link between spiritual and religious practice and happiness. Scientists who study this phenomenon hypothesize many reasons for this, including the strong social support found in religious organizations; the opportunity to engage in a meditative act like prayer; and providing people with perspective and hope.
Cultivating Strengths and Virtues: Happiness psychologist Martin Seligman shows that the happiest people are those who discover their unique strengths and values – and use them for the greater good. Examples could include sharing a talent for music with others; volunteering to mentor youth; or leading a study group in current events. Using your gifts to give back helps generate more happiness!
Positive Thinking – Optimism, Savoring and Gratitude: Optimism is linked to longevity. One study found that for “every 10-point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%.” As multiple studies show, “the mere act of expecting positive outcomes…can boost a person’s immune system, protect against harmful behaviors, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope following troubling news.”
In summary, being happy can add years to your life, and of course improve the quality of your life. If you or someone you love isn’t happy with life now, it may be a good time to consider making some changes. Moving to the vibrant independent living retirement community, The Tradition-Prestonwood, can be one way to make positive changes in all of the areas mentioned above.
To your happiness!
Erasmus University Rotterdam (2008, August 5). Happiness Lengthens Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 22, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com. And various research studies compiled in www.pursuit-of-happiness.org.
Author Joseph L. Roche is a nationally known consumer advocate recognized for his work by The National Consumer Health Federation and The Wall Street Journal.