Tag Archives: happiness

Six lifelong habits found among the happiest people

820 6 habits for happiness

In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.

In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects.

1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.

Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).

In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.

2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.

3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.

4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.

5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.

6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.

Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Ask my office how we can help you shift your health and happiness into the right direction.

Generosity and volunteering proven good for health

generosity good for health

While volunteering is good for those in need, the giver cashes in big on generosity, too. Studies show the benefits of generosity and volunteering include a heightened sense of well-being, increased self-worth, and improved emotional and physical health. 

How generosity makes you happier

Generosity and volunteering produce hormones that relieve stress, promote happiness, cause a natural high (endorphins), and promote bonding and tranquility.

Being generous makes us feel better about ourselves.  It builds confidence, and encourages us to focus toward the world rather than ourselves.

When we improve someone else’s life, empowerment grows and we are better able to deal with life’s hardships.

Volunteering can help you feel better 

Generosity and volunteering also lower mortality rates, reduce cardiovascular risk, decrease anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. 

In fact, one study showed adults who volunteered at least four hours a week for one year were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to non-volunteers.

Another study of teens found those who spent an hour a week helping children in after-school programs had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation than their non-volunteering peers.

Generosity must be genuine to benefit health

Don’t volunteer or be generous simply in order to improve your health or solely out of obligation.

If you want to enjoy the health benefits of generosity and volunteering, it must be genuine. Make sure you’re focused on helping others and not just looking good.

2012 study found that older volunteers had a lower risk of dying in a four-year period than non-volunteers, as long as their volunteerism was for altruistic and not self-oriented reasons.

Tips for volunteering to improve your health

  • Offer to do something your enjoy.
  • Help with a cause you’re passionate about.
  • Be realistic about your schedule so you don’t stress out.
  • Volunteer with others so it’s socially beneficial.
  • Don’t give up if your first attempt is a bad match.

Receive generosity with grace so others can benefit as well

Remember, generosity and volunteering are good for everyone. Others may have chronic health conditions they are working to manage, and allowing them to help you will help them as well.

If someone is generous to you, don’t brush it off or feel undeserving — receive their kindness with sincerity and grace. This will bring you closer to the person and allow them reap the benefits of giving as well.

Want to be happier and lower disease risk? Hang out with a pet

benefits pets copy

Most pet lovers find their furry, feathered, hoofed, and scaly companions count among their best friends. But pets aren’t only good company — research shows they greatly benefit your mental and physical health. 

Pets help the developing immune system

A study in Finland showed that babies who grew up in a home with cats and dogs were 44 percent less likely to develop ear infections and 29 percent less likely to receive antibiotics in their first year compared to babies from pet-free homes. The theory is that exposure to bacteria brought in from outside by pets helps the developing immune system learn how to react properly to germs in the environment. And the more time the pet spent outdoors, the greater the benefit.

Other studies show that children who live with dogs and cats in the first year of life are less likely to develop allergies to those animals later in life.

Pets help you live longer and lower disease risk

Babies aren’t the only ones benefiting from pets:

  • People with pets have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non pet-owners, regardless of weight, diet, and smoking habits.
  • In subjects who have experienced a heart attack, dog ownership decreases the odds for death the first year post-heart-attack from 1 in 15 to 1 in 87!
  • In people undergoing stress tests or physical examinations, the presence of a dog during the exam lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
  • “Seizure-alert” animals are trained to signal their owners prior to a seizure as well as protect them during the event.
  • Some pets are trained to alert their diabetic humans to episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) before life-threatening symptoms develop.
  • Prescription drug use and overall costs of caring for patients in nursing homes dropped in facilities where companion animals became part of daily therapy.
  • The need to exercise a pet and care for it often results in better physical and mental health for the human, regardless of age.
  • Researchers at the University of Arizona are exploring whether dogs can improve human health by having a probiotic effect on the body.

Pets provide mental, emotional, and social benefits 

A study at Tufts University found young adult pet owners are more connected to their communities and relationships, are more engaged in community service, help family and friends, demonstrate more leadership, and have more empathy and confidence than non pet owners.

Caring for a pet can prevent downward spirals by providing consistency and routine, helping us feel needed, and giving us something to do each day.

This is especially true for those who live alone, as well as the elderly, who say their pets provide social companionship and a reason to get out of the house for exercise and socialization.

Even families surveyed before and after they acquired a pet reported feeling happier after adopting a pet.

In conclusion, pet owners exhibit greater self-esteem, are more physically fit, more conscientious, less lonely, more socially outgoing, and have healthier relationship styles than non-pet people. The researchers concluded that our pets contribute to our sense of self just as much as our human companions do.