The Biology of Happiness

By Michelle Flythe | March 1, 2005 | 0 comments

According to new research, happiness isn’t just a state of mind. It affects your heart rate, your body chemistry, and it could contribute to substantial physical health benefits over time.

British researchers Andrew Steptoe, Jane Wardle, and Michael Marmot asked 228 volunteers, ages 45-59, to rate their levels of happiness over a workday and a leisure day, and monitored their blood pressure and heart rate regularly. Volunteers also gave saliva samples and completed a mental stress test. Study results showed that people with higher happiness ratings not only had a lower heart rate, but also had lower levels in their saliva of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and less concentration in their blood of a plasma that’s connected to heart disease.

While some of the differences between happier individuals and their less happy counterparts were small, the researchers point out the potential impact of these seemingly minor variations over an extended period of time. “If differences of this magnitude are elicited in everyday life when people are exposed to daily hassles and challenges,” they write, “the result could be a marked difference in cardiovascular disease risk.” They also note that lower levels of cortisol are related to reduced long-term risk of abdominal obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and immune system problems.

For years, research has shown that reducing depression, stress, anxiety, and other negative states decreases the risk of heart disease and other maladies. This study has gone a step further by linking a positive emotional state to physical health benefits. Indeed, when the researchers measured their participants’ levels of psychological distress, they found that the physical health benefits of happiness occurred independent of whether or not participants showed any signs of depression or another negative state. This suggests that there may be a distinct biology of happiness that carries its own set of health benefits, beyond the benefits of simply not being depressed.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

The Science of Happiness

Register for the acclaimed online course through the end of May


The Science of Happiness

A free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life. Co-taught by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas. Up to 16 CE credit hours available.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

The Moral Molecule By Paul J. Zak A look at the hormone oxytocin's role in trust and how that may be the basis of a well-functioning economic system.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"Greater Good offers a first-rate service to those who want to track new and important research findings in social and emotional intelligence."  
Daniel Goleman

Best-selling author,
Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence
(www.danielgoleman.info)

thnx advertisement