You are certainly aware of the importance of happiness on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
You probably have a number of methods that you use to increase your level of happiness. These may include exercise, meditation, or even certain activities that you enjoy, such as gardening or pottery. You probably also recommend that your patients focus on thoughts and activities that make them happy, which may then increase their sense of well-being and positivity.
When your patients ask why it is important to focus on activities and thoughts that make them happy, you probably tell them that doing so will speed their recovery from injury or help them cope with chronic illnesses.
However, if your patients ask for scientific evidence showing that increasing their level of happiness can affect their physical condition, you may find yourself facing somewhat of a challenge. There is certainly a great deal of experiential evidence available – including your own.
Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether or not there are there studies that go beyond just that to draw a connection between increased levels of happiness and tangible benefits? The truth is that there has been some surprisingly interesting research that does seem to provide scientific proof for the idea that happiness can indeed provide meaningful physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
Meditation and cardiovascular and autonomic effects
A 2006 article, published in the Annals of Behavioral Science, reported on two studies that examined the effects of meditation on heart rate, blood pressure, and heart rate variation (known as cardiac respiratory sinus arrhythmia).1 In the first study, one group participated in two sessions of meditation, four weeks apart, while the other group was the control.
In the second study, one group practiced meditation, while the other listened to an audiotape of a popular book. In both studies, the meditation groups showed a drop in blood pressure, and women in the meditation group showed a drop in heart rate variation in the second study.1
Gratitude and sleep
An interesting 2009 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research posited a link between thoughts of gratitude prior to sleep and better sleep patterns.2 The researchers conducted a survey of 401 subjects, including 161 people (40 percent) who reported poor sleep.
All subjects were also measured in terms of how much they agreed with certain questions regarding their level of gratitude (e.g., “I have so much in life to feel thankful for,” “I am grateful to a wide variety of people,” and “When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for.”).2
The researchers found that people who scored higher in terms of thoughts of gratitude before bedtime also had better sleep quality and duration. Such people also exhibited less daytime dysfunction due to poor sleep.2
Self-compassion and healthy behaviors
A 2015 article in the journal Health Psychology pooled the results from 15 smaller articles to find a common finding on the link between self-compassion and healthy behaviors, including eating habits, exercise, sleep, and stress management.3 The researchers found that in all 15 articles, subjects who displayed greater levels of self-compassion were also more likely to practice healthy behaviors.
The researchers concluded that people who practice more self-compassion may find it easier to use adaptive techniques that allow them to live healthier lives.3
No doubt you and your patients know the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” As it turns out, there may well be some actual science behind that advice!
- Ditto B, Eclache M, Goldman N. (2006). Short-term autonomic and cardiovascular effects of mindfulness body scan meditation. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 32(3), 227-234.
- Wood AM, Joseph S, Lloyd J, Atkins S. (2009). Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 66(1), 43-48.
- Sirois FM, Kitner R, Hirsch JK. (2015). Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology, 34(6), 661-669.