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October 31, 2019

Happiness is the X-factor in your health

A cheerful outlook is linked to a better heart, stronger immune system and longer life

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Research links healthiness and happiness. Happy people live longer, have stronger hearts and better immune systems.

Guys, if you're looking for that edge, that secret factor that can help you get healthy, here it is: Get happy.

Yes, there is a huge body of research that documents a link between healthiness and happiness. And there's even hope for the old farts known for their grumpiness and pessimism.

A Harvard Medical School report says that being young has little or no bearing on happiness. They cite a study where adults grew steadily happier as they moved into and through middle age. Happiness levels only decline slowly when health problems and other life problems emerged according to the study. Could it be that easy?

Now, for the record, the Harvard report adds that it's helps to lower your stress levels over a period of years and with a positive outlook and relaxation techniques, you could reduce your risk of health problems. Definitely a reasonable ask.

Looking deeper, an article by Caroline Wilmuth asserts that happiness may not cure what ails you, but it might help stop you from getting sick in the first place. And Kira Newman reports scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger and, our lives longer. She also suggests that happiness can help combat stress.

Perhaps the most preeminent study, and one specifically focused on male behavior and the connection between our social relationships and happiness, is the 75-year-and-counting Harvard study of adult development.

"For me, a good workout is the perfect antidote to the stress of daily life. I love to exercise in the morning, in part, because it sets the tone for my day, and gives me the feeling that I can handle whatever it brings."

Its researchers have tracked the lives of 724 men and now their children. According to study director Robert Waldinger, 75 years of research on male health can be boiled down into one simple point: "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier."

There you have it. A game plan that reinforces the importance of our social relationships and the positive impact that happiness can have on our health. Couple that with some healthy living and you've got a winning recipe.

But what comes first? Do we need to be happy to find the motivation to start living healthy? Can healthy behavior contribute to our happiness and get us into the cycle where the two become mutually reinforcing? Either way, the key is to foster the connection.

I consider myself a positive, glass-half-full guy. Trust me, after 40 years in management, I'm not naive to the ways of the world and the crap that we all deal with.

That said, I try to see for the positive side of things. When I look into the eyes of my 4-year-old grandson, I can't help but feel happy and believe that there's hope for our troubled world. A positive outlook works for me.

On the interplay of healthiness and happiness, my experience is that they absolutely go hand in hand. You may have experienced the same.

For me, a good workout is the perfect antidote to the stress of daily life. I love to exercise in the morning, in part, because it sets the tone for my day, and gives me the feeling that I can handle whatever it brings.

As a single dad back in my 30s and 40s with 2 boys at home, diet and exercise enabled me to balance a busy career and fatherhood. It kept me upbeat and happy when I could have easily played the blame game and bemoaned my mistakes of the past. I'm not sure if it was the proximity of my fatherly experiences or my healthy lifestyle, but I was happy and feeling good.

How about you? What makes you happy? How can you bring happiness, and healthiness into your life? The literature is full of guidance. In an article in Psychology Today of the same name, psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith identified 10 Simple Ways to Find Happiness. Among my favorites on his list are being open to change and finding purpose. 

My personal approach to finding happiness is to engage in a simple 4-step analysis:

1. Consider who makes you happy?
2. Identify what makes you happy?
3. Inventory where you are the happiest.
4. Think about why you feel happy.

Whatever method you use, remember that happiness and a positive outlook can go far in supporting your health. A little attention to this "X" Factor can go a long way.

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