When it Comes to Happiness and Longevity, Don’t Forget the Power of a Smile
You know how some people absolutely radiate happiness? How just being around them, even for a minute, can make you happy too?
Joy MacKinnon, owner-director of the MacKinnon Dance Academy in Oxnard, California, famous for turning out award-winning Scottish Highland Fling dancers, is well named. Joy! Because she is one of those happy-making people.
Joy has to be one of the most joyous, dynamic women I’ve ever met. Her 80+ years positively burst with enthusiasm – her enjoyment of life patently obvious – and it is totally infectious.
Enjoying Life at Two or 102
Enjoyment of life. What we all aspire to, whether we are two or 102! Recently, science has made the most delightful connection between enjoyment of life and longevity, as reported in the British Medical Journal. Namely, that the more often you enjoy whatever is going on in your life, the longer you are likely to live.
You may argue that if everything were going well in your life, you’d enjoy it just fine! Perfect health, a fabulous lifestyle, maid service and a masseuse on call, a mate who adores you – no problem. Life is good. But what about for those of us who live in the real world, where the toilet’s backed up (again), the roof is leaking, your mate is grumpy and your back hurts?
Here’s the thing: You don’t need to put your full attention on the toilet-roof-grumpy mate-hurting back 24/7. You can take a break! You can deliberately choose to switch your focus to something more pleasurable. Something that makes you happy, large or small, it matters not.
Direct Link Between Happiness and Longevity
In a 2011 study, researchers at University College, London, assessed the happiness levels of people ages 52 to 79 by monitoring their feelings several times over a day. Then, five years later, the researchers examined how many of those people had died. The result? Older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying
over a five-year period than unhappy people.
Even after the researchers controlled for medical conditions including cancer and diabetes, and health risks such as smoking, being happy was still linked with living longer. As noted by one of the study’s foremost researchers, Professor Andrew Steptoe, “I was a bit surprised that the happiness effect was so strong even among people who had chronic diseases.”
You see, it’s not the big crises that drag us down, that spoil our enjoyment of life. We are remarkably resilient! Of course, you’re not going to be happy in the middle of your or a loved one’s health crisis, a relationship melt-down or a world-event trauma. But these are few and far between, and crises aren’t what comprise the major part of our lives.
What erodes our happiness more than anything are the ordinary hiccups of life, the stressors of your every day. And when your happiness is worn down, your health and your longevity suffer.
Happiness and Longevity are Your Choice
So, give yourself the health and longevity benefits of enjoying life. When life’s mishaps upset your day, take a break! For me, reading is a reliable pleasure. Frankly, I don’t think my day is complete unless I’ve had a chance to read something.
So, when the roof is leaking, and the repair-dude can’t come out to my house for another day and a half and as the rain insists on making its way into my living room, once the buckets and towels are in place, I read. Preferably something engrossing, like a good mystery, or a tale of derring-do. Anything to take my mind off the leak, and provide me with an enjoyable experience, even if only for a little while.
Make a list of things that make you happy, no matter what. Like petting your cat, or looking at a picture of your grandchild, or picking up the phone to chat with a good friend – whatever works for you. Post that list where you can see it easily, so that the next time you find yourself grousing about whatever, you can easily lift yourself up and out into a few enjoyable moments.
That’s really all it takes. Happiness is a state of mind, a deliberate commitment to enjoy life as often and in as many ways as possible, which in turn will support the health and joyous long life you so richly deserve. The older folks I highlight in Meet the Amazings all have that great attitude.
Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 years old, lived on her own until she was 110, and was mentally intact until she passed away, sums it up beautifully: “Always keep your smile. That’s how I explain my long life.”
What are the three things that bring the most joy to your life? What are your ways to pull yourself out of the doldrums? What’s your special definition of happiness? Please share in the comments.
Dr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including “Happy Healthy… Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right.” Please visit Noelle’s website.