Positive Psychology: When I was a kid growing up in Iowa, both my parents smoked; my mom smoked cigarettes and my dad smoked cigars. I remember on winter trips, when we got in the car, I would have to stick my nose out the window just a crack to get a little fresh air. It was a long trip sometimes.
Even though as a kid I clearly realized that smoking wasn’t something good for us, later, through my studies and academic experiences, I learned that smoking is really, really bad for us. And as I dove into health and viewed healthy and health articles and journals, what I read over and over again is that the best thing you can do for your health is not smoke.
My dad didn’t smoke cigars very much and he quit a long time ago, and he’s still alive today. My mother, on the other hand, had a much more challenging time quitting. She did end up succeeding, but because she smoked, she only made it to her mid-60s, while her mother lived to be 90. So, smoking, as you probably all know now, isn’t very good for us. Again, it’s probably the most important thing we can do for our health.
But I wanted to share a really interesting study that I found that talks about a positive psychology study on happiness in regard to our health. It was done in 2008 by researchers from Erasmus University, Rotterdam and was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. There were three interesting aspects of this study.
One is that happiness doesn’t seem to affect us if we’re already chronically ill. If we’re chronically ill, we’re going to stay ill no matter how happy or unhappy we are. Though, I would argue strongly that we’re going to be a lot happier if we’re happy with chronic illness than being unhappy with chronic illness. The finding that stated that happiness won’t keep us alive, but I would argue it would make the experience a whole lot better.
The second point of the study is that though happiness does protect against from falling ill if we’re healthy, happiness will keep us healthy.
And the third point, which will explain my early segment about smoking and my parents, is that happiness has about the same effect of smoking, but in the positive direction. In other words, if we’re happy, we’re going to live much longer, as if we didn’t smoke or vice versa; if we’re not happy, we’re going to take off our life about equal to what we would lose if we smoked. So, it’s a really big deal to focus on being happy if we want to live good lives, particularly, long lives.
And why would this be? What’s the reasoning behind happiness keeping us healthy and unhappiness making us unhealthy? It’s pretty simple — it’s about stress. Chronic unhappiness causes stress and there are lots and lots of positive psychology studies talking about the negative effects of stress.
Stress is just really, really bad for us in regard to overall health and how long we’re going to live. If we’re under stress for an extended period of time, we’re just not going to live as long. But this study shows the reverse is true: if we’re happy, if we’re truly enjoying the journey of life, then we’re going to live longer, much longer.
People that are happy live longer, this study found. Equal to the effects as if they hadn’t smoked. So it’s a big deal to find happiness. Let’s talk about why it matters to us.
I know there is a plethora of reasons why people listen to the Happiness Podcast, but probably one of them is just the title, “We want to be happy, we want to find happiness”. And that’s what the Happiness Podcast is all about. There’s now over a hundred episodes of specific ways of how to find happiness — we talk about non-attachment; we talk about impermanence; and we talk about living in the moment, and many more things.
If you aren’t familiar with these specific steps, please begin to listen to the podcast. You’ll find them super helpful, with practical steps to live life well. But in this blog, I want to talk about putting our energy towards being happy because it does take effort. It isn’t just going to happen naturally.
Some people are born happier and others are more miserable. However, there are specific things that we do to be happy. It’s like being in physical shape — we can be born more physically in shape than others, but if we’re going to stay in physical shape, we’ve got to work at it and it takes work. Happiness is no different — it takes work to be happy.
There are specific things that we have to do all day long that make our lives happier, that makes our lives go well. For example, just enjoy life throughout the day, not just at the end of it when we get home and can relax. Let’s learn how to be happy everyday, not just at the end of our lives when we retire or living for the weekends. We need to find that happiness now.
If we do this, we will not only enjoy life more, but as positive psychology research studies show, we do that but also live longer. We’ll be around for our children and grandchildren, for our friends, but more importantly, whatever we’re doing throughout our lives. We’re going to enjoy it not just the end results, not just the weekends but all the way through.
But again, like I said, this takes work. Happiness is not naturally just going to fall on our laps. We need to work at being happy. We need to commit to this. Happiness has specific things that need to be in place in order for our life to go well. If we just think, “Oh, I can do whatever I want, it won’t matter and I’m going to be just unhappy or happy no matter what,” then we’re misguided.
If we do certain things, then we can find happiness. If we do other things, it may negatively impact us. That’s what the Happiness Podcast is about and there are many, many tools in the podcasts to help us have beautiful lives.
But we have to commit towards being happy. If we say, “I don’t believe I can be happy, that’s just for the lucky people,” then we will probably live unhappy lives. But, instead, if we say, “No. I really want to find out what it takes to be happy? How can I be happy now?” Then we will find happiness.
Happiness is not about just living for weekends, living for retirement, or waiting until we can get home to start our happy moments when we have a few glasses of wine and watch a favorite TV show. That’s not what happiness is about. Happiness is inside of us. It’s controlled by our thoughts and we really have to do specific things to adjust to being happy.
We can really live beautiful lives if we work at it. Not only that, positive psychology studies shows that if we work at it, we’ll live longer. There are many reasons to be happy. The main one is just feeling happy. But now we know, not only does happiness make life a whole lot better but we’ll live a lot longer.
So, let’s commit today towards being happy until happiness becomes our natural response. We can train ourselves to make choices that lead towards happiness throughout the day. We can all have beautiful lives but we do have to work at it. Let’s commit towards working towards being happy now and then perhaps find that we live a longer too.