In High Spirits – Happy People Less Likely To Fall Sick
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…
You might be healthier for it.
People with a generally sunny disposition are less likely to fall ill, according to a Reuters report. In fact, happiness could be the best defense through the cold and flu season, according to a new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
In the study, 193 healthy adults were exposed to a cold or a flu virus. And those with a ‘positive emotional style’ did better at warding off illness, the findings indicated.
The reasons for this may be both subjective and objective, researchers say. While happiness may indeed boost immune function, happy people may also be less troubled by such irksome symptoms as a scratchy throat or a runny nose.
“People with a positive emotional style may have different immune responses to the virus,” lead study author Dr Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was quoted by Reuters. “And when they do get a cold, they may interpret their illness as being less severe.”
Study participants completed standard measures of personality traits, self-perceived health and emotional style. Those who were classified as having a positive emotional style tended to be happy, energetic and easygoing. Those who were often unhappy, tense and hostile were judged to have a negative style.
Both groups were then given nasal drops containing either a cold virus or a flu virus that causes cold-like symptoms. Over the next week or so, the participants reported any aches, pains, sneezing or congestion. At the same time, researchers collected objective data, such as daily mucus production.
Dr Cohen concluded that not only were happy people less likely to develop a cold, but when they did, their self-rated symptoms were less severe that would be expected based on objective measures.
Other factors such as the participants’ perception of their general health, self-esteem and degree of optimism were also weighed, but it was happiness that seemed to protect against cold symptoms, researchers said.
The Happiest People
So what makes us happy? Somewhat surprisingly, the older you get the happier you are – until you reach very old age. According to a US study, the happiest age group is men 65 and older. The least happy group? Men age from 18 to 29. The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also found:
- married people are happier than singles
- university graduates are happier than those without a university degree
- people who are religious are happier than those who aren’t
- people who live in sun-belt areas are happier than those who don’t
And what role does money play in determining happiness?
Daniel Gilbert, author of the book Stumbling On Happiness told CNN that money helps to buy happiness – but only to a degree.
“Our culture implores us to buy bigger, newer, better things, but research shows ‘stuff’ does not buy happiness. By and large, money buys happiness only for those who lack the basic needs. Once you pass an income of $50,000 more money doesn’t buy much more happiness,” Gilbert said.
What about people who are disabled?
They are about as happy on a day to day basis as the general population, according to Gilbert.
And while many parents may vehemently disagree, Gilbert said that having children can have a negative effect on happiness. “When you follow people throughout their days, as they’re going about their normal activities, people are about as happy interacting with their children, on average, as when they’re doing house work. They’re much less happy than when they’re exercising, sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends,” Gilbert told CNN. “Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally create these transcendent moments of joy that we remember as filling our days with happiness.”
The failure to obtain happiness could be the result of a faulty imagination or unrealistic expectations. Our imagination fail us, Gilbert said, because when we envision different futures we see either perpetual gloom or happily ever-after scenarios. In fact, neither unhappiness nor joy last as long as we expect.
To better predict what will bring you happiness, Gilbert says to remember that people are not unique in what makes them happy.
“If I wanted to know what a certain future would feel like to me I would find someone who is already living that future,” he said. “If I wonder what it’s like to become a lawyer or marry a busy executive or eat at a particular restaurant my best bet is to find people who have actually done these things and see how happy they are.”