What does research tell us about the A’s and B’s (advantages and benefits) of happiness?
Studies have shown that the health benefits of happiness, including reduced stress and improved heart health, are significant.
Before we find out what are the benefits of being happy, here’s a friendly reminder:
You are one of your loved ones. It’s okay to be happy for yourself.
Giving yourself self-love without feeling guilty is as vital as keeping others happy.
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Advantages of Happiness: Benefits of Happier People
Happiness is good for us. Happier people outperform others in many ways, as science shows.
Here are some of the A’s (Advantages) and B’s (Benefits) of happiness:
1. Happy People Are More Successful, Earn More, And Get Rich More Often.
Success doesn’t make us happy, but being happy makes us successful, as many studies have proved.
One related benefit of happiness is that it makes you more creative and 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 a study 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.
Laura Kubzansky, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, conducted a study that followed over 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years.
She found that 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. And that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half.
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.— Kubzansky, 2007
Now, you might be wondering if hope and optimism are the same or different items in psychology. Find your answers here: Hope vs. Optimism.
2. Happy People Are More Popular, More Loved, Have More Friends & A Bigger Social Circle, And Are More Generous & Helpful
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.
There are benefits of making others happy.
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 to help or not.
- 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.
3. Happy People Have Better Relationships And More Pleasant & Satisfying 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.
4. Happy People Have Better Physical And Mental Health.
There are some crucial health advantages of being happy. Happy people have better physical health and report fewer unpleasant physical symptoms.
They have 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:
There is some truth to this. People spend the best years of their lives making money while sacrificing their health and family. Then spend the rest of their days spending the same money to reclaim their lost health and alienated 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.
5. Happy People Are Stronger In Mindset, Calmer, And More Resilient
Now, happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times—but it is also about 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.
5 Benefits of Being Happy With Yourself
Some of us live alone, knowing that no one will be waiting for us when we return home in the evening. Even when we are on our own, we must choose to be happy and do things that make us happy.
Happiness can give us an edge even when alone:
- Increased Self-Awareness: When you’re being happy while being alone, it allows you to better understand your thoughts, feelings, and motivations, leading to increased self-awareness and self-discovery.
- Improved Emotional Regulation: When you are comfortable in your own company, you can better regulate your emotions, reducing stress and anxiety.
- Increased Creativity: Spending time alone can increase your imagination and creativity, allowing you to explore new ideas and find inspiration in a quiet and peaceful environment.
- Enhanced Focus: Without distractions from others, you can focus on your goals and priorities, allowing you to be more productive and achieve more in a shorter amount of time.
- Higher Emotional Resilience: By embracing your own company and building a strong relationship with yourself, you become more emotionally resilient and better equipped to handle life’s challenges and obstacles.
Happiness Benefits: Why Is Being Happy Better?
Being happier is better.
We should choose happiness because studies show that a happy person is more likely to thrive at work, make more friends, and be more productive.
When people are happy, they feel better about themselves and make others around them happier and more productive.
Not only that, but being happy makes us feel better in general and even makes us more attractive to others. The psychological benefits of happiness also include a higher pain tolerance, healthier self-esteem, and lower levels of anxiety.
Positive psychology is the study of human strengths and virtues, and explores what makes people happy and life more worthwhile.
Positive psychologists have been studying happiness for a long time, and have found many beneficial effects of happiness: less aggression, more compassion, higher self-esteem, less anxiety, lower blood pressure, and a longer lifespan.
The earliest positive psychologists also devised a formula for happiness. Happiness, according to it, is primarily a matter of choice. It is not so much a result of genetics or serendipity as it is a conscious decision to be a happier person.
Here are a few findings from the research:
- Life satisfaction was positively associated with not smoking, physical exercise, using sun protection, eating fruit, and limiting fat intake, but was not related to alcohol consumption or fiber intake (Grant, Wardle, Steptoe, 2009).
- The very happy people were highly social and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extroverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic, and scored lower on several psychopathology scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Compared with the less happy groups, the happiest respondents did not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events 9Diener & Seligman, Very happy People, 2002)
- Positive attitudes have a long-standing impact on prognosis in old age. Of the participants, 102 had a positive life orientation. After 10 years, 54.5% of them were alive, whereas, in the rest of the sample, 39.5% survived. At 5 years, only 2.9% of those having a positive life orientation but 17.5% of the rest of the sample were in permanent institutional care, with a positive life orientation remaining a significant protector against institutional care (Pitkala, Laakkonen, Strandberg, 2003).
- The average life satisfaction score for people in the UK was 7.70 out of 10 (where 0 is not at all satisfied). Between 2012 and 2018, the average life satisfaction score for people in the UK went up from 7.45 to 7.70 out of 10. The data reveals that it is 95% certain that between 30.12% and 30.80% of people in the UK reported very high life satisfaction in 2018 (Annual Population Survey – Well-being 2017 to 2018.)
- 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.
Did you know that the weather and climate can affect our well-being too?
A particularly hot day can raise our tempers, making us irritable. Those who live in areas of low sun exposure tend to have winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
People who are happier have modest and realistic levels of expectation and aspirations.
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 as well 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.
Davidson proposes, therefore, that we can raise our happiness levels through a regular practice of mindfulness.
He 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.”
Benefits of Happiness: Take Home Message
- One of the best benefits of being happy is more success and pay at work. Happy people are wealthier and more successful and have higher creativity and efficiency.
- Science tells us that happiness is beneficial and that happier people are kinder, more helpful, physically healthier, mentally more resilient, and have better relationships and marriages
- The science in question is Positive Psychology—a branch of psychology that has exploded in popularity, becoming a hot topic among academics, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs alike.
- Research from the field, ranging from the late 1990s to the present, has found that happiness has many short-term and long-term benefits. Every day, new research reveals more positive advantages of happiness.
So, how to be happier?
Practice mindfulness meditation. The happy benefits of daily meditation and mindfulness practices have been scientifically proven to enhance overall well-being and improve mental health.
Keep a positive mindset and healthy self-esteem.
Travel to lower your stress.
By the way, a skill is an 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.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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