Happiness Improves Health and Lengthens Life

According to a study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, a review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects has found "clear and compelling evidence" that – all things being equal – happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers. "Your subjective well-being – that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed – contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations," said lead study author, Ed Diener, Ph.d.

Tips to increase happiness

The good news? Recent research reports that you can change your thoughts and actions to increase your happiness. To increase your happiness, consider the following:

Live with purpose. People who strive for something personally significant – whether it's learning a new skill, raising a good family, or changing careers – are happier than those who don't have strong dreams or aspirations. Pick one or more significant goals and devote time and effort pursuing them.

Nurture your relationships. A Japanese study found that contented people's happy experiences most often involved connecting with someone. Happy people have a strong bond with at least two out of three of these essential relationships: a partner, a friend, or a parent. Experts say the best way to improve a relationship is to invest time and energy in it.

Count your blessings. One way to feel happier is to recognize good things when they happen. Express gratitude for what you have privately and also by conveying appreciation to others. If you have trouble counting your blessings, try keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three to five things you're grateful for once a week. Several studies show that people who record what they appreciate experience greater happiness and less anxiety.

Practice kindness. Do good things for others. Acting kind or helping others makes you feel capable, compassionate and full of purpose. In one recent study, researchers could literally see the benefits of kindness. Subjects were hooked up to a brain-imaging mechanism and asked to click yes or no to charity-giving opportunities. When they donated, the machine registered a boost in blood flow to a part of the brain associated with happiness.

Cultivate optimism. Keep a journal where you write your best possible future. Practice seeing the bright side of every situation. Studies show that optimistic thoughts can be self-fulfilling and that optimists are healthier, happier and live longer than pessimists.