If there’s ever a time for gratitude, it’s on the International Day of Happiness, celebrated on Monday, March 20 this year.
While we appreciate that it’s not possible to simply snap your fingers and feel instantly ecstatic, the day provides a good opportunity to celebrate some of the health benefits that happiness can bring, when we experience a feel-good experience.
Research suggests that happy people are less likely to get sick, more likely to achieve their goals, and earn more on average than those who aren’t feeling their best. Does this make sense.
But more surprisingly, those with a positive outlook may live an average of seven and a half years longer than those who see the glass as half empty (that’s a similar comparison to the effect not smoking has on your lifespan!).
Sure, we know that being happy can improve our mental health, but there are many other sneaky ways that happiness can impact our bodies. Here’s everything you need to know, from experts around the country.
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The health of your skin is a simple sign of how happy you are. “The skin is the body’s most sensitive organ for assessing a person’s happiness,” advises Dr Andrew Affleck, consultant dermatologist at BMI Fernbrae and BMI Albyn hospitals in Scotland.
“If you’re happy and relaxed, your skin will be happy too, with optimal blood flow (not pale or too flushed) and no excess sweat that you can sometimes get if you’re stressed or anxious.”
This is something Dr Anton Alexandroff, consultant dermatologist at BMI The Manor Hospital in Bedford agrees with.
“When people are happy, they produce hormones called endorphins. There is emerging evidence that endorphins are involved in strengthening the skin barrier, have an anti-inflammatory effect and promote wound healing,” she explains.
“So if you’re happy, it can be argued that you’re less likely to suffer from dermatitis, psoriasis, and more likely to heal wounds faster and better.”
On the flip side, Dr. Affleck says being unhappy can aggravate many skin disorders through neuro-immunological (the central nervous system and immune system) and endocrine (hormones released from glands in the circulatory system) mechanisms. In other words bad mood = bad skin.
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“Being euphoric and happy lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increasing the production of endorphins and serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone,” explains David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of the mental health app and personal development Remente .
“These happiness hormones create a sense of satisfaction, which in turn makes the brain work to the best of its ability.”
You smile when you are happy, and smiling can have a positive impact on your health, including your heart health. “Releasing endorphins through smiling increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure,” explains Susannah Schaefer, CEO of International Children’s Charity, Smile Train. “That means you can reduce your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, just by smiling!”
Who knew being happy could actually keep wrinkles at bay? “Happiness can mean maintaining the look of youth for longer,” says Rana Das-Gupta, consultant plastic surgeon at Meriden Hospital in Coventry.
Das-Gupta says happiness may influence skin aging because it reduces the shortening observed in telomeres (the protein caps at the ends of our DNA chromosomes that get shorter as we age). “This research promises to show a cellular link between happiness and youth,” she says.
Your blood pressure
“Happiness and contentment can lower blood pressure,” explains Dr. Robin Northcote, consultant cardiologist at Ross Hall, King’s Park and Carrick Glen hospitals in Scotland.
And this in turn can have a knock-on effect. “We eat less and healthier, drink less and smoke less,” adds Dr. Northcote. “All of this translates into less heart disease, diabetes and strokes, and all the while we’re enjoying the release of endorphins which makes us even happier!” Winning!
They say you can eat your way to happiness by consuming the right kind of food, but how happy you are also has an effect on the health of your stomach. “If you’re happy, your body is more likely to swallow, digest and carefully process a wide range of foods without ill effects, acid reflux or indigestion,” explains Ewen Griffiths, general consultant and gastrointestinal surgeon at Edgbaston Hospital in Birmingham .
“Interestingly, an unhappy mind and stress can significantly affect the gastrointestinal tract,” continues Dr. Griffiths. “For example, irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion and reflux are known to be much worse if you’re stressed or anxious.” If you’re concerned, she suggests getting checked out by a doctor.
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Your immune system
Feeling under the weather? Time to put a smile back on your face. “Laughter and smiling encourage the release of serotonin,” explains Susannah Schaefer. “Like endorphins, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to a person’s happiness and well-being. Serotonin has many positive benefits, one of which is boosting the immune system.
Your stress levels
“Happiness has real physical changes in the body,” explains Dr. Simon Taggart, chest consultant and general practitioner at the Alexandra Hospital in Manchester.
“Lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline give us a warm glow inside the body and warm up our hands and feet. Happiness creates a more relaxed state of mind, and this shows through as a release of excessive muscle tension in our faces.
The length of your life
The simple act of cracking a smile could add years to your life! “Studies have shown that a happy disposition can have a major impact on a person’s health, as well as their life expectancy,” explains Susannah Schaefer.
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