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Can Being Happy Really Be a Matter of Being Healthy?

Psychology Today

Originally Posted: December 7, 2019

When you think about the features of your life that make you happy, you’re likely to count off such factors as how well your relationships are going, whether you have enough money to pay your bills, how you feel about your work, and whether you’re having a good day so far. How often, in this listing of contributors to your happiness, do you include how healthy you’re feeling? From the opposite perspective, if you’ve got a headache, a cold, or a sore toe, you’re probably not feeling all that happy. However, as soon as you’re better, you forget how much your body’s status affected that of your mind’s. What if your happiness was affected more by your overall health than you realize?

According to Southern Methodist University psychologist Nathan Hudson and colleagues (2019), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that people’s overall sense of life satisfaction and typical levels of happiness are linked to physical health. Going back to Hippocrates, the authors note, the perplexing question of whether health promotes happiness or vice versa remains a matter of scientific debate.  Even if you haven’t thought much about how your health relates to your overall well-being, researchers have tackled this relationship from a variety of perspectives. Some findings suggest that people who are healthier just feel better about life; others that some third factor such as personality or genetics causes health and happiness to be related; and still others suggest that people who are happier are healthier because they take better care of themselves.

This third possibility, which the authors note as being somewhat controversial, would be due to the tendency for happier people to sleep better, socialize more, consume healthier diets, and engage in more exercise. Their higher happiness would also relate to lower levels of worry and pressure, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, known to interfere with immune functioning and even the workings of the cardiovascular system. As sensible as this suggestion might seem, Nelson et al. note that the jury is still out on empirical findings that would offer support. READ MORE