Happy is the new healthy

Happy is the new healthy

It's that time of the year again when all of a sudden it hits you - that whole new year's resolution to hit the gym at the crack of dawn is nothing but a distant memory and your battle with the weighing machine is now down to a cold war. All of a sudden waking up early is the most difficult thing to do, especially when you think of the rest of the day ahead. All of a sudden, it's not the extra pounds that matter but the extra minutes of sleep that count.

Here's a thought to consider: While it could be that you ought to be in the gym, how about, you agree that it's more sensible to sleep and enjoy those extra few minutes instead. Throw that guilt out of the window, and quit the gym before you even begin - if you were meant to go there, you'd already be there. Staying happier matters so much more than spending your waking moments worrying about things you should be doing and aren't.

So maybe not all of us can live in Bhutan with its fascinating Gross Happiness Index, but it could be that we can all get some sort of personal happiness with where we are today. Agreed, happiness depends a lot on what point and where we are in life at that moment, but there is a larger factor that doesn't really depend on what the weather is outside. Today, there is a huge industry that thrives on just the 'happiness factor'. From bestsellers like The How of Happiness, programmes like Happify and Tal-Ben Shahar's Wholebeing Institute, one can learn a lot about what it takes to be happy.

However, maybe it's time we paused for a second. Stop the whole rat race of trying to read too much into everything, and accept happiness for what it really is - a feeling of general well-being and contentment, knowing that life is actually rather good and we're all doing okay. Happiness is clearly a state of mind that can be achieved with just a couple of minor tweaks in the way we look at life. Eating healthier, getting outdoors a little more, looking up from those smart gadgets we own.

It has always been thought that happiness does indeed affect one's health, and a study of a large group of women in the United Kingdom proved just that in a review published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being in July 2017. A group of people was asked to evaluate their lives based on various aspects of physical health over a decade. The ultimate conclusion was, with "almost no doubt," that happiness really can influence health, according to lead author Edward Diener, professor of social psychology at the University of Utah. The review suggested a couple of theories on how this could happen. For instance, happy people tend to take better care of themselves, have their hair cut regularly enough perhaps aside from choosing healthier options like exercising or eating better (with clearly more sleep), as opposed to unhealthy ones.

A well-researched thesis topic, The Happiness Project became a household name in 1996 when the BBC broadcast a QED science documentary called How to be Happy. Three volunteers took part in an eight-week happiness programme called 'Be Happy'. The results, as measured by independent scientists, were outstanding. Professor Michael Argyle, from Oxford University, declared it "a genuine fast-track to happiness." Professor Richard Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, concluded: "This happiness training not only changes the way you feel; it actually changes the way your brain functions." The programme, originally conceived by Robert Holden, PhD, does confirm, much to our relief that you don't really have to choose. Health and happiness essentially go together, and ultimately 'there is no true health without happiness.'

Jai Krishnan, a project coordinator at The Ashoka Tree, an NGO in Chennai, talks about how "working out isn't something I want to do every day. I enjoy my job and what I do does give me a sense of satisfaction, but eating healthier for a couple of days and generally taking the stairs or being active does contribute to how well my day goes." Maybe there's more to staying healthy and happy at the same time.

Sure there is the odd "laughter is the best medicine" clich, but does that prove really that health and happiness are correlated?

Happy hearts

Maybe love and happiness could actually scientifically be related to matters of the heart, and studies prove they're connected. A paper in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information in 2008 came up with some interesting findings. Of the 76 patients (with known cardiac-related issues) studied, it was found that everyone who rated themselves as happy on a tested day actually had healthier heart rate variability than others tested on that day. Not a life-saving technique clearly, but staying happy could actually keep you healthy.

Sneezing & smiling

Of all the things in the world that are connected, it turns out your immune system gets stronger when you're happier. The NCBI experiment in 2003 had 350 adults exposed to a cold virus in quarantine. Needless to say, those with more positive emotions had a greater resistance to the virus. Maybe smiling more could have you sneezing less.

Less stress & happiness

Life, as my mother told me, is "10% of what life gives you but 90% of how you take it." Sure, we've all had depressing moments of pain and panic, but what actually keeps you going is managing to view life as a 'glass half full' instead of going down. Unhappiness can be literally painful, and stress contributes a fair amount to those migraines and more. Taking life as it comes, learning to count down before you lose the plot, just breathing one breath at a time is bound to temper the effects of those hormones and rising blood pressure.

Needless to say, you can't really be blamed for those Monday morning blues that come after a long weekend of partying. However, what could help beat those blues is getting out and doing something instead of moping around while you procrastinate. It isn't so much about how much you force yourself to smile through your pain but how if you get out a bit, join a local zumba class or get to the park to play ball with your neighbour's dog before you find yourself feeling just a little better. Eating healthier does help your overall well-being, but so does a little bit of exercise. Start talking to people instead of texting, walk instead of waiting for the cab, make eye contact while you strike up a conversation with the person next to you at work - it's those little lifestyle changes that make a healthier, happier you.

Besides, Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that 'odours produced by our bodies can communicate happiness to others.' According to researchers here, "happiness benefits the individual on multiple levels, as it restores the damaging impact of negative emotions on the cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune systems, and broadens attention to inspire creative ideas."

Happiness is contagious, and your smile today could spread so many more tomorrow.

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