While some studies from the field of Positive Psychology are from the late 1990s, many of them are recent, and they all come to the same conclusion: Happiness is good for you!
Happiness is the most important thing we want for the people we love. We always want our loved ones to be happy, sometimes even at the cost of our own happiness.
But why is happiness important? What research in positive psychology tells us about the A’s and B’s (advantages and benefits) of happiness?
Science says happier people are more successful and more productive. They are kinder, altruistic, physically healthier, and mentally stronger. Studies show they have better relationships and marriages.
Benefits of Being Happy: Advantages of The Happier People
We need happiness in our lives because happiness has many advantages. Being happy has numerous benefits, as the science of positive psychology has been evidenced over the last few decades. Happier people outperform others in many positive ways.
Let’s go over some of the A’s (Advantages) and B’s (Benefits) of happier people:
1. Happy People Are Healthier
Happy people have better physical health and report fewer unpleasant physical symptoms. They have much fewer hospital and emergency room visits, call their doctor less frequently, use less medication, and have fewer work absences.
They also experience less pain and have a higher pain threshold.
Happy people have better mental health than their less happy social group members.
Jose de Jesus Garcia Vega, Professor of Economics and the Director of the Center for Well-being Studies at the University of Monterrey, Mexico, has famously written in the World Book of Happiness:
It is often said that people spend the best years of their life trying to make money and sacrificing their health and their family, only to spend the rest of their days paying that same money to recover their lost health and their estranged family!
Overall, happier people have less depression and suicide, and greater self-control and coping skills. They also live longer on average, up to 10 years more. [The Nun Study]
Heli Koivumaa-Honkanen, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital, Finland, whose research found dissatisfaction in life is linked to a higher risk of death from disease, says:
Healthy people are not happier. The reverse is true: happy people are healthier.
2. Happy People Have Better Relationships And Marriages
Relationships are of utmost importance for the creation of our happiness. When we stay socially connected to our community, friends, and family, we are happier, healthier, and live longer.
Happy people have more friends and better social support and are more satisfied with their friends and their activities together.
In one study, the researchers found the top 10 percent of the happiest college students had high-quality relationships. They were less jealous and had stronger contact with their family members.
My empirical study of well-being among 1,600 Harvard undergraduates found a similar result — social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race.
In fact, the correlation between social support and happiness was 0.7. This may not sound like a big number, but for researchers it’s huge—most psychology findings are considered significant when they hit 0.3.
The point is, the more social support you have, the happier you are. — Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
Happy people also have more fulfilling marriages. Marriages are more likely to succeed when couples experience a 5:1 positive ratio. [The Gottman Institute]
They tend to have more satisfaction in their marriages. Researchers have found there is indeed a strong relationship between happiness and satisfaction with marriage and family.
Happy people who are either married or in committed relationships more often describe their partner as being their “great love” than their less happy friends.
3. Happy People Are More Successful
Success doesn’t make us happy; but being happy makes us successful, as many studies have proved. Happiness also makes you more productive.
Happy people are more satisfied with their jobs, are more productive, and earn more than their colleagues. They also make better and faster decisions.
In fact, the economists at Warwick University found that people primed to feel happy during an experiment were 11% more productive. Companies with happy employees perform better than the stock market index year after year.
Happiness improves your ability to problem-solve. Happy doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses.
In a 2007 study that followed over 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years, Laura Kubzansky, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found emotional vitality — a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, and engagement in life — appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in both men and women.
Kubzansky found that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half. She wrote in her paper:
Findings suggest that individuals with higher levels of emotional vitality had reduced risk of developing CHD during a 15-year follow-up period. Further analyses indicated that one mechanism underlying this relationship may be health behaviors.
Greater emotional vitality was significantly associated with less smoking, higher alcohol consumption, and more physical activity; after including these behaviors in the models, the relationship between emotional vitality and incident CHD was attenuated.
However, the association remained significant after controlling for these behaviors as well as a history of psychological problems, use of psychotropic medications, current depressive symptoms, and other covariates.
Now, you might be wondering if hope and optimism are the same or different items in psychology. Find your answers here: Hope vs Optimism.
4. Happy People Are More Resilient
Now happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times—but it is also being able to cope effectively when times are inevitably bad. Positive experiences and positive emotions build our resilience.
Resilience is our ability to bounce back from hardships. Resilient people not only recover but also grow afterward to build the best possible life
Resilient people face their fears head-on, keep a positive mindset in the face of adversity, and look for meaning in traumatic experiences. They are tenacious in their efforts to lift themselves out of misery, always eager to learn new ways to solve problems, and not hesitant to seek help when things become overwhelming.
A study found brief moments of positive emotions that occur on a day-to-day basis, such as laughing with friends or doing something you enjoy, help build resilience. Barbara Fredrickson found that repeating positive emotions lead to a “broaden-and-build” effect, which helps build up resilience in the face of life’s obstacles.
Researchers also found higher levels of resilience have links to lower levels of psychological distress.
Another study found psychological resilience may be a resource to increase life satisfaction and happiness and reduce psychological distress in chronically ill patients.
Find out what Psychological Resilience is.
Happy people are more prosocial and seem more inclined to help others. Prosocial behavior is defined as conduct driven by an intent to benefit others.
A large body of research indicates spending time helping others has emotional advantages for the helper, like greater life satisfaction, more positive affect, and reduced depression.
Volunteering is generous behavior and is defined as helping others with no expectation of monetary compensation. Available data provide compelling evidence that there is a reliable link between volunteering and various measures of subjective well-being. And this effect is universal across various cultures.
Formal volunteering benefits older people more. People who score higher on depressive symptoms also report higher levels of well-being boosts from volunteering.
Prosocial spending or spending on others is related to higher levels of happiness, apparently via activating the reward centers in the brain. People who spent more money on others in a typical month—by giving gifts and donating to charity—reported greater happiness, as was found in a survey of 600 Americans (Dunn et al, 2008).
Research also says how much money you spend on yourself in a typical month has little to do with your happiness.
Activities that turn good deeds into happy feelings:
- People are more likely to enjoy helping others when they have the freedom to choose whether or not to help.
- When people feel connected to those they are helping, they are more likely to receive joy from their efforts.
- People are more likely to find satisfaction in helping others when they can see how their support is making a difference.
Why Is Being Happy Better?
Why should we prefer to be happy when we could be our everyday selves, or even unhappy?
Why do most people try to be happy? It’s popular to say it’s because they want to enjoy their life, but the question still remains: why do they want to be happier?
After years of research, psychologists have found a happy person is more likely to succeed at work, make friends, and be more productive.
Not only that, but being happy makes us feel better in general and even makes us more attractive to others. The benefits of happiness are often overlooked, but they can be profound.
The right attitude can be the key to lasting happiness.
Scientists have been studying happiness for a long time, and they have found many positive effects of happiness: less aggression, more compassion, higher self-esteem, less anxiety, lower blood pressure, and a longer lifespan.
When we are happy, we feel better about ourselves; we make others around us happier and more productive.
A large-scale study of over 2,400 British adults found those who scored high on measures of life satisfaction and lived in areas with high levels of sun exposure, reported experiencing an average of 16% higher levels of life satisfaction.
In comparison, those who scored well on the same measures lived in areas of low solar exposure. Less sunlight in the winter months is known to cause winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Research studies on happiness consistently point to higher levels of happiness because of increased self-esteem and a sense of well-being, and lower levels of stress. But do these changes last?
The answer is yes—in the long term. According to the latest research, the benefits of happiness include a stronger immune system, higher self-esteem, and lower levels of anxiety.
A 2020 study found there is a growing class divide in happiness. While many of the “have nots” of the economy became increasingly unhappy, the happiness advantage favoring the “haves” expanded between the 1970s and the 2010s.
According to the science of positive psychology, happiness is a choice. It is not the result of genetics or luck, but a choice you make to become a more satisfied and content person.
Positive psychology can help you overcome negative thoughts and automatically make a choice that will put you on the path to a happier, more productive life.
Positive psychology is the study of human strengths and virtues. This branch of psychology looks at what makes people happy. As a topic, positive psychology has exploded in recent years, and it’s become a hot topic for researchers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs alike. In the past few years, there have been many studies focusing on the positive effects of happiness, and they are increasing in number by the day.
[Have you heard of a thing called Facebook envy? It’s when you have negative feelings after scrolling through your friends’ social media life. If you’re troubled by that, even occasionally, then check out how to get over it.]
Does happiness increase immunity?
Scientific evidence suggests being happy may boost our immune system. Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues (2003) found people who were happy, lively, calm, or exhibited other positive emotions like optimism, were less likely to become ill when exposed to a cold virus than those who reported fewer of these emotions. They also found that when happy people did come down with a cold, they had fewer symptoms.
A 2006 study by Cohen had the same result: people who reported positive emotions were less likely to catch colds and were also less likely to report symptoms when they did get sick.
Can a person learn to be happier?
Yes, happiness is a learnable skill. You can learn to be happy. You can teach yourself and others to be happier. Research shows our happiness levels can change notably over our lifetimes, and that itself suggests happiness may be a skill that can be learned over the years.
Richard J. Davidson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has found mindfulness training for even 2 weeks, for 30 minutes a day, can result in measurable changes in the brains of the participants. This ability of the brain to change its form and function is called neuroplasticity. He suggests, therefore, that we can raise our happiness levels by regular practice of mindfulness.
Davidson says, “Everything we’ve learned about the brain suggests that it’s (i.e., happiness is) no different than learning to play the violin or learning to engage in a complex sport. If you practice at it, you’ll get better at it.”
Matthieu Ricard, molecular geneticist, author, and Buddhist monk, says, “Happiness is a skill, but it is a skill that has many components, and each of those components are constructive ways of being, like altruism or benevolence, compassion, inner peace, inner strength, inner freedom.”
By the way, a skill is the ability to do something well. It is a capability you develop through practice or experience. And happiness is a skill that can be learned and honed.
And it should be learned because it can help you live a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
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