Can our happiness effect our heart health? Researchers have been looking for an answer to this question, and some are finding a definite connection. Lisa Berkman and Harvard have spent time trying to connect love, happiness and how they effect our heart health in terms of behavioral, biological, and cognitive mechanisms. More specifically, her research found that participants who had less social connections, such as friends and marriage, had a greater than double chance of death over a 9 year period.
There are many different reasons for this. One is that when we are in love we produce many happy hormones such as oxytocin, which counteracts stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. These stress hormones can increase anxiety, and negatively effect our heart health. It is important to have helpful coping mechanisms to offset anxiety and help us find a peaceful and calm center. One way to do this is through cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps us focus on something different and positive, which changes our perspective. Change your thoughts, change your life.
Laura Kubansky has done research which links happiness to heart health, and she describes learning to live in the moment as a coping mechanism. She believes that achieving a state of mind that allows you to release burdens, is healthy. She believes that happiness can fend off heart disease, and positive emotions contribute to heart health. We also know that living in a state of chronic stress can take a toll on our bodies, and lead to heart disease. The heart’s health can be disrupted by chronic anxiety and anger.
Toxic stress can cause high blood pressure , increased stress hormones and a faster heart rate. Stress causes the body’s stress response system to become activated, and over time this can lead to poor heart health. Relationships which bring joy and happiness, result in emotional balance and a reduced chance of coronary disease. A supportive group of friends and family, coupled with healthy self- regulation, and learning to cope with stress, all lead to a happier and healthier life. A life shared is a happy life.
We have at our disposal courses on happiness, and many best-selling books boasting the benefits of happiness practices. We know that good health and happiness go hand in hand. Scientific research finds that our heart’s become healthier, and we live longer when we are happy. Happiness has been associated with healthier hearts, even for those already suffering with heart problems. Studies have also linked those who live isolated lives to earlier deaths. This could be because immune system activity elevates and lowers, depending on our level of happiness.
We know being optimistic, rather than pessimistic is good for our heart, and protects it. Risk factors for stroke and heart attacks are anger and other negative emotions. In the world of psychology, we refer to “positive effect”, which depends on joy and happiness, and the positive expressions of these emotions. We also know that negative emotions can preempt heart disease.
A healthier lifestyle can be a predictor of heart health. People that are happy sleep, eat and exercise, which leads to less risk of heart disease. Genetics can play a part in this also. If we are predisposed to being happy, then we will likely have fewer heart attacks. Experts believe if we set aside 15 minutes each day to do something relaxing, and that we enjoy, we will gain the benefits of a healthier heart.
Positive psychology is an influencer of heart health. Don’t worry, be happy is a popular slogan we hear, and it actually has research to back the benefits of being worry-free. Mindfulness is a popular practice to avoid worry. With mindfulness, we learn to not look ahead, which causes anxiety and to not look back, which causes depression but instead live in the moment. This is a way to hardwire our brains for happiness.
There are other activities we can practice to become more positive. One is a daily acknowledgment of gratitude, as well as acts of kindness. We can also benefit from practicing forgiveness, enjoying joyful moments and becoming a self actualizer, living our best life. We can live an authentic life and enjoy a sense of wellbeing, deep meaning, and a sense of satisfaction to improve our heart health. By doing this, we provide ourselves with more years to be happy. Genetics, circumstances and social connections all improve our happiness. Much of our personal happiness is controlled by us, by setting goals and meeting them, having a circle of close friends, and finding meaning in doing for others. Happiness is a habit we must cultivate. There is not a path to happiness, happiness is the path. Begin your journey today.