Which comes first, happiness... or health? Are we happy because we’re healthy, or healthy because we’re happy?
Claude Fischer, one of the leading pioneers of “Happiness Research," tells us in his recent Boston Review article:
"The connection between reporting happiness and personal traits often runs both ways. For example, being healthy adds to happiness, and happy people also stay healthier.”
Laura Kubzansky, associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, is also at the forefront of happiness research.
From last December’s HSPH newsletter:
“In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, for example, she found that emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.”
Researcher Sarah Pressman, the Beatrice Wright assistant professor of psychology at KU and a Gallup research associate, has found that positive emotions hold sway over health in all parts of the world.
CBS News ran an article back in 2006, "Study: Happiness is Good For Health", that told us:
"Happiness may do more than put a smile on your face; it might also improve your health."
The current interest in happiness research seems like a healthy turn of events, but connecting happiness with health is hardly a new idea.
Nearly 3,000 years ago, King Solomon told his followers: “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
American health pioneer, Mary Baker Eddy, writing in the last part of the 19th century, told us: “Predicting danger does not dignify life, whereas forecasting liberty and joy does; for these are strong promoters of health and happiness.”
But even if we accept the premise that happiness promotes health, what if happiness is elusive? What if we can't find happiness in our lives?
Again, the wisdom of the ages provides some guidance:
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him,” Buddha
“Happiness depends on ourselves,” Aristotle
“...your joy no man taketh from you.” The Bible, John 16:22
And this, from one of the modern era's best examples of generating happiness in the midst of difficulties:
“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” Helen Keller
Perhaps modern science is only re-discovering and proving what we've always known. If so, T.S. Eliot was right on the mark when he wrote:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”