Scientific research has shown that happiness has real medical implications. There is proof that happiness has a physiological effect on conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.Â Â “People who are happier heal more quickly, have stronger immune systems and, on average, live longer,” says Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois and author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.Â Prof Diener points to studies by Sarah Pressman, assistant professor at the University of Kansas Psychology department, and her colleague Sheldon Cohen. Volunteers who had a positive attitude were found to be less likely to develop a cold when exposed to the virus. The duo’s most recent study found a link between happiness and fast recovery from surface wounds.
Hilary Tindle, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, co-authored an August 2009 study of just under 100,000 women which found that those with an optimistic outlook had a 90 per cent lower risk of suffering heart disease and were 14 per cent less likely to die over the eight years the study took place than their pessimistic peers.Â “Psychological attitudes matter for health,” says Dr Tindle. “They matter not just in terms of self-reported ‘quality of life’, but also in terms of ‘hard’ health outcomes like coronary heart disease and death.”Â Her findings echo an earlier study conducted by researchers at University College London who found that happy people had lower levels of stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to diabetes, and lower levels of the chemical plasma fibrinogen, a major predictor of heart disease.
Scientists are finally waking up to the fact that the key to a healthier population lies in understanding what goes right rather than what goes wrong.