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Joy and Health
Throughout history, folklore has always suggested a strong link between joyfulness and health and longevity. The bible said, “…the joyfulness of man prolongeth his days” (Ecclesiasticus 30:22). Shakespeare seemed to agree when he said, “Mirth and merriment bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.”
Today, the evidence to support the notion that a positive attitude can have a profound effect on health and longevity is overwhelming. In this newsletter, I will highlight some of the studies that just might motivate you to choose joy instead of judgment!
Laugh your Cold Away
According to the research, laughter increases a positive mood and folks who laugh a lot report having improvements in their immune systems, as do folks who can maintain a positive mood. (1) A good joke and a belly laugh may be some of the best medicine.
In one study, individuals who were able to cope with stress with laughter and a positive mood saw boosts in their immune systems: salivary immunoglobulins (the main immune defenders in our mouths) were higher in folks who responded to stress with humor and a positive attitude. (1)
Joy: The Key to a Healthy Heart
In another study, when positive emotions in patients were maintained for 90 days after a heart-related hospital stay, they saw a significant reduction in readmission rates. Happiness predicted readmission rates over and above other factors like health status at initial release, length of initial stay in the hospital, and personal adjustment. (1)
Be the Optimist!
Optimists have been shown to have better recovery rates after heart surgeries compared to those less optimistic. In a study with male war veterans, optimists showed better pulmonary function and had a reduced risk of cardiovascular events than did pessimists. (1)
In one study, participants were assigned to one of three task groups:
- Count blessings
- List daily hassles
- Control group
Those who “counted their blessings” weekly for 10 weeks by listing things for which they were grateful or thankful evidenced better subjective health outcomes, including fewer physical complaints, more time exercising, more hours of sleep, and better sleep quality. (1)
Interestingly, the sentiment of “gratitude,” which is a major theme in my Transformational Awareness Technique Meditation eCourse produced more profound health results than simply having a positive attitude. (1)
Journaling about a stressful situation when positive emotional content was disclosed resulted in better health and fewer doctor’s visits. (1) In addition, those who were able to write about the positive benefits of a trauma that included positive emotional benefits produced superior health outcomes and fewer visits to a health center. (1) People grieving the death of a loved one from AIDS demonstrated less depression and more positive morale when they used more positive emotion words in their journaling. (1)
Together, these studies suggest that writing about positive emotions can have important implications for health.
There are numerous studies that suggest that emotional disclosure, which means sharing or writing down your emotions, is linked to greater longevity. In one study, nuns who wrote more positively in their autobiographies demonstrated longer lives. (1) In another study, elderly adults with a positive attitude were more protected against physical disability compared to those with a negative attitude. Also, AIDS patients who were able to maintain a positive attitude had a lower risk of mortality from the disease. (1)
Studies have repeatedly shown that those who are able to cope with emotional stress with a positive attitude were able to establish closer relationships, and a richer appreciation for life – all predictors of psychological well-being. (1)
The occurrence of positive emotions amid adversity may provide the necessary psychological rest to help buffer against stress, replenish, and restore further coping efforts according to the report. (1)
Research suggests that negative emotions will stimulate the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, while positive emotions will activate the parasympathetic (calming and repairing) nervous system. (1)
Negative emotions were shown to narrow one’s focus, triggering a life or death, attack or escape brain chemistry response. In contrast, positive emotions actually quelled the fight or flight response, while broadening and widening one’s attention, thinking and behavior. (1)
In a recent study, healthy college students were divided up into two control groups. One group was asked to write an affectionate letter to friends, loved ones, family or romantic partners. The second group wrote to the same groups of people but wrote about innocuous topics like weather and sports.
Each group wrote 3 letters for 20 minutes each spread out over a 5-week period. Total cholesterol was assessed at the beginning and end of the two trials. The group that wrote an affectionate letter or love letter saw a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels. The group that wrote a non-affectionate letter saw an increase in cholesterol levels during the same period. (3)
Stress and Microbes
Studies have shown that beneficial microbes in the gut, which support immunity as well as mood stability, are negatively affected by stress. (2) The more fight or flight stress the nervous system endures, the more challenging it is for the healthy and beneficial microbes to survive. (2)
With evidence suggesting that a negative or positive mood will activate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems respectively, the kinds of stress we endure and the lifestyle we live directly impact the health of our gut microbiology. (2)
Ancient Wisdom Predicted Modern Science
According to Ayurveda, much emphasis should be put on living a stress-free lifestyle. While this is not always possible, the benefits of such a lifestyle are only now, thousands of years later, being understood by modern science.
Perhaps even more powerful than the Ayurvedic lifestyle recommendations, which include diet, exercise, daily and seasonal routines, yoga, breathing and meditation, is the impact of a positive attitude on all aspects of health and microbiology. In Ayurveda, this attitude is called sattva. A sattvic lifestyle, one with a positive attitude, albeit very subtle, has the most profound impact on our health according to Ayurveda.
Learn more and experience a sattvic Ayurvedic lifestyle firsthand with our 28-Day Ayurveda Challenge.