Happy equals healthy
CHRISTY SWIFTEverybody wants to be happy and healthy, yet even when we get what we think we want those two things still elude us. So what exactly makes people happy? And how does our happiness tie in with our health?
Published: December 1, 2012
Published: December 1, 2012
According to Psychology Today magazine: "Studies show that people who enjoy close ties with friends and family are happier, have fewer health problems and are more resilient to the stresses of our times."
"I think the most important thing is attitude," said John R. Wolbert Jr., licensed marriage and family therapist in Sebring.
Happiness has a direct, measurable effect on our physical health. When life is good, endorphins — pleasure hormones — are released in the body. That creates a sort of "high on life" feeling that many people seek through alcohol and drugs, said Wolbert.
When people are stressed, instead of endorphins the body releases adrenaline, which raises the blood pressure. Having strong, positive relationships appears to protect us from that kind of stress.
Brigham Young scholar Julianne Holt-Lunstad collected data from 148 different studies comparing health and human interaction. The data showed that people with active social lives were 50 percent less likely to die of any cause over a given period of time than their nonsocial counterparts. Surprisingly, being nonsocial was shown to produce more negative health effects than being obese or sedentary. In fact, it is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Less surprising, psychologist Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University found that having a support person nearby lowered the blood pressure of women placed in a stressful situation, like having to make a speech. Having supportive friends and family members who are there for us in times of stress curbs the damaging effects of stress in our lives.
But how do you foster good relationships?
"A big thing in relationships is forgiveness," said Wolbert. "People cannot forgive another person. They carry that burden and what they do is lock themselves down to giving into that anger instead of being willing to forgive," he said.
Of course, that doesn't mean letting someone continue to hurt you over and over again. But it may mean letting go of what Uncle Joe said to you three years ago. "It has to be a conscious choice," said Wolbert, who admitted that forgiveness isn't always easy. "They have to keep thinking about what's really important. We can choose to be angry, upset, frustrated people, but who does that hurt?"
In marriage, the key to keeping relationships healthy and positive is learning how to argue effectively, according to Wolbert. Some tips he gives couples are: don't argue when you are angry, no name-calling and stay on subject.
"Don't be arguing about the money you spent, and then bring up the affair 10 years previous to help win your point. People like to keep score. In marriage, scores just can't be kept," said Wolbert. Admitting when you are wrong is also key, Wolbert added. Husbands and wives need to stop in the middle of the argument and ask themselves if they are fighting just to defend their position, or should they really be stepping back and saying "I'm sorry."
"Relationships are important. They have to be worked at. They don't just happen," said Wolbert. He said many couples get into ruts. "Life can be a lot better if we are willing to work at it," he said.
Working at it might mean putting past baggage aside and lovingly reconnecting with your spouse. Or it might mean getting together and trying something new and exciting.
"In relationships we have to bring it down a notch or build it up a notch," said Wolbert, adding, "Good relationships can bring us peace and well-being and longevity."