What if I were to tell you that putting a smile on your face would not only make the world a better place, but potentially prolong your lifespan, too? A new study suggests happiness helps you live longer, and let me tell you, I must have been ahead of the times way back when. Once my vocabulary extended beyond “mama,” “dada,” and “cookie,” and I could string words together to make sentences, my favorite catchphrase was, “smile, Mommy!” This definitely got on my mom's nerves from time to time — which I totally understand now, considering she was juggling one very energetic preschooler and three hormonal preteens at the time — but still, to this day, whenever I catch her looking stressed, I encourage her to smile. So Ma, if you’re reading this, science says I’m responsible for adding years onto your life (you’re welcome).
Of course, happiness isn't just about pasting a smile on your face — anyone can do that. But maybe faking it until you actually feel it is something worth considering when life gets a little too hectic or stressful. Think of it this way: When your happiness gets pushed to the side for the sake of making a deadline, acing a course, or putting other people’s interests before your own, that unnecessary amount of stress can negatively affect both your physical and mental well-being. But, according to recent findings published in the medical journal Age and Ageing, if you’re able to combat any negative mojo you might be harboring and, instead, focus on the positives in life, choosing to embrace happier over more negative emotions could help you live longer.
I realize it wasn’t too long ago that research was suggesting embracing your #lazygirl status could be the secret to living a longer life, but if you think about it, laziness and happiness fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The more physical strain you endure, the less happy you’ll probably be, which circles back to your psychological well-being — aka your mental health. When your mental health isn’t being cared for and nourished, your physical health starts to suffer as well, so is happiness the key to living a longer, more fulfilled life? To find out, researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore analyzed the survey results of more than 4,000 people aged 60 and older to find any possible link between happiness and lifespan.
Participants completed the questionnaire weekly from 2009 up until Dec. 31, 2015. The questions focused on whether or not participants felt genuinely happy, enjoyed life, and had hope for the future in that moment, ScienceDaily reports. The results showed that while only 15 percent of the self-proclaimed happy adults died during this time, 20 percent of participants who reported feeling generally unhappy died throughout the same time period. What's more, the researchers found that "every increase of one point on the happiness score lowered the chance of dying due to any cause among participants" by as much as 9 percent, according to ScienceDaily. In other words, the happier the individual, the greater the odds they’d outlive someone who felt unhappy most of the time.
With these research findings in mind, it’s a little unnerving when you consider how many things in life can cause unnecessary stress and sabotage your ability to be happy. And, TBH, I’m stressed just thinking about how much power stress has over your physical and mental well-being. These results show that literal years could potentially be cut off from your lifespan if you aren’t feeling consistently happy from day to day, and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t you put happiness at the top of your priorities?
I know myself, and I try to live life with the intention of being happy, but there’s no denying life gets in the way of that sometimes. Between working hard to earn a living and thrive in my career, juggling a very packed social calendar, and somehow squeezing in time to focus on myself, cultivating my own happiness doesn’t always feel possible. But, like anything worth having, making sure you feel happy on a daily basis takes conscious effort and planning. It’s 100 percent easier said than done, but it's certainly not impossible.
In order to feel genuinely happy, you first have to feel relaxed. And according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, a really easy way to start is by checking your vital signs: Is your blood pressure up? Are you breathing heavily? "Our vital signs provide a window into the mental and physical state of our bodies, and reflect how we are feeling," Glatter tells Elite Daily. So, in order to channel your inner zen, it all starts with simmering down your physical vital signs. To do this, consider a guided meditation practice (the Headspace app is a great resource you can download to your phone and use anywhere, anytime you're feeling particularly unnerved), take deep abdominal breaths, and, if you have the time in your schedule, take up a new, creative hobby like sculpting, painting, or even visiting a museum. The more time you can dedicate to doing the things that make you happy, the better — and, who knows, it could even add a few years to your life in the long run.