There’s something about people with a sunny disposition that one can’t help but envy. How do they manage to smile all the time? And why does it seem like nothing ever gets to them? Well, aside from being fun at parties and easy to take out to dinner, happy people have something else going for then: A means to a better life.
An optimistic attitude can make you a healthier, happier, and more well-rounded person who gets sick less often. It seems almost too good to be true, but there are studies out there that support the evidence and point to the conclusion that happier people lead better lives.
In a recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health entitled “,” the link between optimism and health risks like cardiovascular disease was studied by analyzing patient data from the Nurses’ Health Study. The conclusion they came to provided some pretty optimistic results:
They found that a higher degree of optimism was associated with a lower mortality risk. (Time to bust out that feel-good playlist you’ve been meaning to listen to.)
In , 309 middle-aged patients about to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery were given a full psychological evaluation to measure their levels of optimism, depression, and self-esteem. The results? You guessed it: Optimists were half as likely as pessimists to require re-hospitalization following surgery. On the other side of things, a similar study found that highly pessimistic men were more likely to develop hypertension.
So how is it that happier people are less likely to suffer from recurring health problems? Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology & Social Behavior at University of California, Irvine weighs in:
“The main thing you need to realize is that optimism is marginally different than happiness. Optimism is like a cognitive evaluation and positive emotion is about happiness. Am I happy right now? Am I calm? It’s dispositional. You can be in a bad mood and still be an optimistic person.”
Pressman says that a vast number of studies support the notion that positive people live longer. How does this happen? A lot of it has to do with stress.
“Happier people experience stress differently, they perceive their stress as less severe and don’t react to it as strongly. In fact, smiling while stressed can actually reduce heart rate and blood pressure,” Pressman says.
While the myriad studies out there have compelling evidence about happier people having less severe reactions to asthma, HIV, and even cancer, Pressman certainly doesn’t consider smiling a cure-all.
“I mean, look, you can’t happy your way out of stage four breast cancer, but for those with early types of stage one cancers, studies say that happier people do tend to survive these diseases longer.”
The big question is — especially for those suffering from some degree of anxiety or mental disorganization — how does one turn their emotional frown upside down? , Psy.D., a leading private practice psychotherapist who specializes in children, couples, and family, offers the following tips to happiness:
“Do not strive for perfection. Be ‘good enough.’ Build self-esteem toward self and others by using words that support and motivate with empathy, rather than criticize. Express your feelings in the moment. Do not allow anger and disappointment to build up inside you. Say what you feel clearly and respectfully. It will free you.”
Walfish says that even taking 10 to 15 minutes each day to “be with yourself and chill” and giving yourself “short, undivided, positive attention” can add up in the end, building a foundation for positivity.
Licensed clinical social worker, , offers similar advice to those yearning for happiness. She suggests being a bit more proactive through training and daily affirmations — which means simply finding free moments around the day to focus on your mental health:
“I use Post-It notes with positive affirmations and inspirational sayings,” says Sabla. “I place them on my nightstand, bathroom mirror, refrigerator, car sun visor, office desk drawer, etc. These sayings are great reminders that help me stay focused on the positive [and keep me from] falling into a funk when I am having a bad day.”
While these little tips and tricks may seem menial or even silly, using hacks like these to up your mood that are specifically tailor-made for you is what works.
If you don’t think snuggling up to a “Live, Laugh, Love” Post-It is going to cut it, try something you know will make you happy — something tailor made for you: A photo of your favorite person, a quote from a funny TV show, hey, maybe even a picture of a dog.
Dr. Pressman speaks to the power of pets, too: “Even watching a funny YouTube video of a cat or dog can make you happy, thus decreasing your heart rate and reducing stress.”
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that watching a cat in a tutu will turn you into some sort of superhuman goliath, but the evidence — both scientific and colloquial — suggests we’re certainly onto something.
Happiness, optimism, and positivity is absolutely attainable, it’s just the route to find it that’s up to you. Here’s a funny video of a dog wearing fake eyebrows to help you get started.