What is happiness? An emotion? A sense of satisfaction, contentment, or joy? A sense of peace?
Culturally, many Americans think of happiness as a sort of spiritual, mental, or emotional intangible. But when you start digging into the things that make you feel happy or unhappy, most of the causes are based on something tangible, a physical or material object or source: wealth and possessions, achievements, status, a key relationship or title.
That’s at the high end of the scale—aspirational things that you hope to achieve. If you have them, then you’ll be happy. What about more basic things? Can you be happy without food, shelter, clean water, safety? What about your health?
Humans are complex, integrated beings. Most Americans recognize that there is a physical, emotional, and even spiritual aspect to human existence. Happiness is predicated for most on achieving at least a minimum baseline across all aspects: physical health, comfort and security, emotional balance in the form of meaningful relationships and a secure sense of self-worth, and a sense of spiritual wellness, balance, or justification. If any of those aspects are thrown out of balance, you will find it challenging to experience happiness.
On an emotional or spiritual level, you can affect your level of happiness with spiritual and mental practices such as the popular mindfulness movement—in essence, you choose happiness. This stands in contrast to attitudes of skepticism, scarcity, and dissatisfaction. That also feeds into your perception of what’s required on a physical level to achieve happiness. At a baseline, most people need necessities such as food, shelter, and physical health to feel happy. Many have higher bars—perhaps a physical ideal, a promotion, a measurable point of wealth—that they feel the need to surpass to feel themselves to be happy.
As it turns out, the physical and emotional/spiritual aspects of humanity are so tightly intertwined that scientists and doctors have been able to observe their effects on one another. Studies record a correlation between the severity of a disease in its impacts on a person’s life, and that person’s level of happiness. Many won’t regard this finding as in any way remarkable; we all know that, the sicker you are or the more you’re hurting, the less happy you feel.
What you might find surprising is that the opposite affect has been observed: a person’s level of happiness can change their physical reality.
On the physical side of the equation, investing in your health and addressing health concerns boosts happiness. Spend less time around screens and more time with people. Moving and spending time outside is a good start. Focused exercise is even better: the endorphin boost that comes with sweating it out in the gym or on the track makes you feel happier. Many people feel calmer and more content out in nature, to the extent that some cultures regard time spent in forests as healing. Eat a healthy, balanced diet with more whole foods, keep properly hydrated, and get lots of sleep to feel healthier and happier.
See a doctor if you have health concerns and proactively treat illnesses. Your increased sense of control and improved day-to-day experience will contribute to a better outlook. There are medical scholars researching many diseases and conditions, with new discoveries being made all the time. Professor Mikhail Blagosklonny has made progress in the areas of cancer and anti-aging research to advance the solutions offered. Staying up to date with the latest research and advances can help you find new treatments and address concerns that may not have been possible to treat in the past.
Approaching the happiness problem from the other side of the fence, there are studies examining a reverse correlation between happiness and health. The surprising result seems to be not just that healthy people are happier, but that happier people may be causing themselves to be healthier. They seem to develop less illness and impairment, experience aging-related decline more slowly, and have better functionality and life expectancy, making happiness potentially one of the most effective anti-aging drugs. Positive effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system, hormones and healing have also been observed.
Spiritual and mental practices such as meditation or mindfulness can help you, as can deliberately reducing the things in your life that cause you stress or anxiety. Engaging in community and investing in people is also effective; volunteering, giving back, philanthropy, friendships, and family contribute to greater happiness—and by extension, better health.
Double your chances at achieving greater happiness with a two-pronged approach: proactively address physical problems through a healthier lifestyle and appropriate medical treatment, and practice emotionally and spiritually healthy behaviors. Learn to turn your focus away from the negative to the positive, invest in yourself and others, and practice being in the moment and enjoying life. Choosing happiness, as simple as that sounds, really may help you live a longer and a better life.