Be Happy and Healthy – Here’s How!

Are there things to be worried about right now? You bet!!! The economy, swine fly, our kids and parents are just a few of the things that cause us concern. Today’s adults, teens and even children have their plates full of things that can bring stress, worry and anxiety with them. Note that these situations CAN cause these feelings in us but they don’t HAVE to. Researchers are showing in study after study that it isn’t stress that makes us worry, it is the way in which we CHOOSE to react to those stressors.

Take public speaking, an example of a situation which causes many people to feel anxious, worried and sometimes even physically sick. Yet not all people respond to the stressor in this manner because they do not perceive it to be a stressful situation. Again, it is how we perceive stress and how we respond to it that determines the effect that it will have on us both mentally and physically.

Recent research indicates that self efficacy (a feeling of being in control of a situation) influences our immune system, our emotional happiness and even our longevity. Stress, by its nature, is defined as a situation that challenges a person (or an animal) beyond his/her ability to deal with the demands of that situation. In other words, if you feel capable in a situation, you do not experience if as stressful. If you feel helpless, you do feel stress.

So rather than worry about things we cannot control; the economy, the people in our lives, whether we seccumb to the flu or not, we need to focus on those things that we can influence in a positive way. Here are just few tips for having health and happiness:

  • Living in the present rather than the past or the future and really savoring the moments that give us joy is one method for increasing our happiness and health.
  • With permission from your doctor, start a program of physical activity. Research shows that moving your body increases health and happiness by releasing chemicals called endorphins and endocannabinoids (natural chemicals similar to those in morphine and marijuana!). Not only will moving increase your physical health but it will also increase your mental health as well and you might live longer too!
  • Be grateful for what you have rather than wishing your life were different. No matter how poor or how successful you are, there will ALWAYS be someone better off and someone worse off. If you want to be REALLY happy, go find the one who is worse off and do something to help or cheer or take care of that person. Research shows that people who do things for others are happier than those who do things for themselves!
  • Choose happiness. The brain is wired so that it can only experience one emotion at a time. If you are feeling worried, scared or sad, if you stop for a moment and look for something beautiful, happy or comforting, that is what your brain will experience. You have the ability to re-wire your feelings, again choose happiness.
  • Choose health. Research shows that happy people are sick less often and that when they do get sick, their symptoms are less severe and last less time AND they live longer than do unhappy people.

Bottom line: it is up to you! You can allow the circumstances of this world to dictate how you feel and you will be on a constant see-saw of emotions OR you can choose health and happiness. What will YOU choose?

Research:

Cohen, S., Alper, C.M. , Doyle, W.J.,Treanor, J.J. & Turner, R.B. (2006). “Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza A Virus.” Psychosomatic Medicine 68:809-815

Hitlin, S. (2007). Doing good, feeling good: Values and the self’s moral center. The Journal of Positive Psychology: 2(4): 249–259

Pressman S.D., Cohen S. (2005) “Does Positive Affect Influence Health?” Psychological Bulletin. 2005;131:925–71.

Ratey, J.J. (2008). Spark; The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company: New York.

Ray, O. (2004). “How the Mind Hurts and Heals the Body.” American Psychologist: Vol. 59, No. 1, 29–40

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1987). Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: The influence of generalized outcome expectancies on health. Journal of Personality, 55, 169–210.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1998). Learned Optimism. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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