In the past, science has proven that your emotional state is closely linked to your physical health. Chronic stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to a broad range of health problems, including strokes, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, and more.
A new study published in Applied Psychology analyzed specifically how subjective well-being (your perception of your happiness) could affect health, as well as the factors that affected subjective well-being.
Some of the most influential factors affecting subjective well-being include:
- Feelings of respect
- Social support
- Quality of medical care
Each of these factors affects our subjective well-being to a varying extent from person to person, making it difficult to quantify precisely how much each of us is affected by each.
However, the research makes it clear that our perception of happiness is altered according to these and a multitude of other factors.
But how does our subjective well-being affect our health? According to the data:
- A low sense of well-being leads to higher incidences of cardiovascular events, poor cardiovascular health, and even a higher mortality risk.
- Subjective well-being has a direct influence on immune function. Positive and negative emotions can both alter immune activity, for the better or worse.
- Your endocrine system (hormones) is also affected by your subjective well-being. Production of cortisol, the stress hormone, is inversely related to your mood—ergo, better mood = lower cortisol production.
- Low subjective well-being can decrease your production of telomerase, the chemical that helps to rebuild telomeres (the end-caps that protect your DNA from damage during replication). Stress can also shorten telomeres, while meditation can help to improve telomerase.
- Positive mood can lead to faster wound healing, including skin-barrier recovery. Psychological interventions (guided imagery, stress management training, breathing exercises) helped to boost mood sped up post-surgery recovery.
- People with high subjective well-being are more likely to engage in healthier behaviors that can lead to long-term health improvements.
The lead researcher said, “We now have to take very seriously the finding that happy people are healthier and live longer, and that chronic unhappiness can be a true health threat. People’s feelings of well-being join other known factors for health, such as not smoking and getting exercise. With certain disease groups such as cardiovascular disease, interventions to raise the well-being of clients and reduce their stress now seem justified. Although our evidence base is not beyond a reasonable doubt, the preponderance of evidence suggests that at least some individuals would benefit from having higher subjective well-being.”
1. Ed Diener, Sarah D. Pressman, John Hunter, Desiree Delgadillo-Chase. ‘If, Why, and When Subjective Well-Being Influences Health, and Future Needed Research.” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2017; 9 (2): 133 DOI: 10.1111/aphw.12090.