A Laugh a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: The Importance of Happiness for Your Health

Monica Lin - 08/12/19

Laughing is one of the surest signs that someone is happy; with a big grin plastered on your face and your eyes folded into half-moons, you have to be radiating joy. This emotion feels good and fills you up with warmth and all the goodness that you know, but there the benefit that comes from it not only helps you with your emotional health and state, it can also help you with your physical wellbeing. If you need the extra boost for your health and are lacking motivation, here are six ways that happiness can hopefully better your physical health!

1. Happiness strengthens your immune system. 

My sister is a grumpy, deeply dissatisfied person who always seems to be getting sick; in fact, once she coughed so hard that she broke her one of her ribs after contracting a really bad case of the flu. This is not a mere coincidence: according to much research that has been done, there appears to be a causal relationship between happiness and a stronger immune system. In 2003, an experiment found that positive emotions can help with the prevention of colds. 350 adults volunteered to be exposed to the common cold, and before exposure, researchers asked them six times over a span of two weeks how much they experienced positive emotions. After five days in quarantine, those that were happier were less likely to have caught the cold. Another experiment carried out in 2006 found that happiness does not only mitigate a sickness’ symptoms, but rather, it seems to literally be working on a cellular level. Happiness, then, really does boost immune system health because it allows our bodies to be stronger, so, in conclusion, if my sister was a little less angry, maybe she’d be a little less sick. 

2. Happiness protects your heart. 

The brain is generally allotted the role of logically guiding your actions, and the heart is allotted that of emotionally guiding your behavior. Happiness, then, is often felt with your “heart,” and though happiness does not necessarily originate there, it is really good for it. A 2005 paper found that happiness is correlated with lower heart rate and lower blood pressure. In the experiment, participants rated how happy they were thirty times during a day, and then did the same thing three years later. The happiest patients in the beginning had a lower heart rate when they rated their happiness years later, and they also had better blood pressure. Things like this can definitely add up and have a great effect in heart health; in a study done in 2010, it was found that positive emotions lowered heart disease risk. In the study, 2,000 Canadians were invited into a lab to discuss their anger and stress levels at work. They were rated on a scale of one to five for the extent to which they expressed positive emotions such as happiness. Ten years later, when researchers checked back in with the participants, they found that the happier ones were less likely to have developed coronary heart disease. 

3. Happiness can reduce pain.

Unhappiness can literally be painful, so in fact, happiness can mitigate pain in the context of disease, and it was this conclusion that was found in a 2005 experiment. This study followed women with arthritis and chronic pain, asking them to rate how much and how intensely they felt positive emotions, like interest, joy, or enthusiasm, every week for a time period of three months. During the study and after, the women who rated their happiness higher overall seemed to also experience less pain. A number of other studies have discovered that happiness can actually reduce the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Happiness has also been found to reduce pain in other conditions. A study  followed 1,000 people recovering from having a stroke and found that the happiest individuals in the group rated their pain 13% lower three months after being released from the hospital. Researchers have speculated that happiness may lessen how people rate their pain because positive emotions help broaden their perspective, thereby encouraging new thoughts and ideas. Happiness, then, can help people adopt effective ways to cope with their perception of pain in a way that reduces the pain they feel!

4. Happiness lowers our stress levels.

Researchers have found that the happier you are, the less stressed you may be. Usually, when you stress too much, your levels of cortisol can increase, and this is a hormone that actually contributes to many harmful effects of stress, such as disturbed sleep, weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. A number of studies have found, though, that when people are happier, though, they appear to have lower levels of cortisol. For example, one study found that, in over 200 adults who were given stressful tasks in the lab, cortisol levels in those who were the happiest were actually 32% lower than for those who were unhappy. More interestingly, these effects appeared to persist over time.

5. Happiness lengthens our lives. 

Because of all that we just listed above and because of happiness' goodness in itself, being happy can actually help you live longer. A study published in 2015 tracked the effect of happiness on survival rates in a group of 32,000 participants. Researchers found that the risk of death over the 30-year study period was 14% higher in individuals who were unhappy in comparison to their happier counterparts. How happiness can actually aid in life expectancy is not well understood, but it can partially be explained by how happiness increases one’s participation in beneficial behaviors that will help one survive longer. Such behaviors are an avoidance of smoking, exercising more, and good sleep habits and eating practices.

Now that you know how helpful happiness can be to your health and life, it’s important to figure out how you can be happy. There are clearly a lot of ways, such as doing things that you love, spending time with people you care about, relaxing, and most importantly, laughing! Laughing is an incredibly important method to boost happiness levels, and one way to share laughter is by telling jokes, that’s why, here at NursingCE, we’re going to be celebrating National Tell a Joke Day by giving you 20% off of your CEs.

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Now that you know the importance of happiness and how to achieve that happiness, be sure to go out and do just that. We will be compiling a list of the best jokes submitted to give you more laughs so that you can boost the health of your immune system, heart, and life, all while lowering your stress levels and reducing your pain. 

So… don’t forget to do all that you love with ardor and happiness, and laugh on, nurses!