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Rewards of Happiness

It's not surprising that happiness is influenced by life circumstances such as marriage, money, and status. In this article, you’ll learn that the reverse is also true—happiness makes you healthier, wealthier, and more likeable. It’s a self-fulfilling circle where happiness causes the very circumstances that lead to more happiness.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
-Albert Schweitzer

Better Health
In a study from University College London, researchers found that unhappy people had cortisol levels that were 32 percent higher than happy people1. Cortisol is a stress hormone associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disorders. Also, the unhappy people had an average resting heart rate of 76 beats per minute, compared to 70 for happy people. Lower heart rate is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Happiness boosts the immune system. When researchers from Carnegie Mellon University deliberately infected volunteers with a virus for the common cold, the happiest people were almost three times less likely to develop a cold than the unhappiest people2.

Longer Life
In a study of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, researchers examined the nuns’ handwritten autobiographies and scored them for emotional content3. When they wrote their autobiographies, the nuns’ average age was 22 years. At the time of the study, they ranged in age from 75–95 years.
Results showed that positive writing in early adulthood was associated with a 2.5-fold lower risk of premature death 6 decades later. This was an unexpectedly large difference because the nuns shared the same occupation and socioeconomic status; reproductive and marriage histories; and social activities and support.

Higher Income
In a review of 286 studies, researchers from Friedrich Schiller University of Jena found that happiness was more strongly associated with income than education4. In other words, being happy helps you make more money. In a study from the University of Illinois, researchers asked 13,000 first-year students to rate their level of cheerfulness5. Nineteen years later, students who had rated themselves as most cheerful were earning an average salary of $65,000, compared to $50,000 for those who had rated themselves as least cheerful.

More Support
Would you rather work with someone who is happy or miserable? In an 18-month study, researchers from Stanford University found that people who showed more positive emotions on the job received better evaluations, higher pay, and more support from supervisors and co-workers6. Positive emotions motivate you to work harder and longer. You’re more likeable and more successful at influencing others. You’re also more likely to be nice to others. In turn, they’re more likely to be nice to you.

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
-Oscar Wilde

  1. Steptoe A, Wardle J, Marmot M. (2005). Positive affect and health-related neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and inflammatory processes. PNAS. 102(18):6508–6512.
  2. Cohen S et al. (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine. 65:652–657.
  3. Danner DD, Snowdon DA, Friesen WV. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: findings from the Nun Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 80(5):804–813.
  4. Pinquart M, Soresen S. (2000). Influences of socioeconomic status, social network, and competence on subjective well-being in later life: a meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging. 15(2):187–224.
  5. Diener E et al. (2002). Dispositional affect and job outcomes. Social Indicators Research. 59:229–259.
  6. Staw BM, Sutton R, Pelled LH. (1994). Employee positive emotion and favorable outcomes at the workplace. Organization Science. 5(1):51–71.

Copyright © 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D.
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