We can’t deny it. It’s the season when more people are driven to finding happiness and being happy. In our daily activities, what does this mean? Many people believe happiness and satisfaction come from external events affecting them. But recent studies indicate that much of true satisfaction and well-being come from within, and that one is not born happy or unhappy – it is mostly a developed or a learned trait.
How can that be? We get a glimpse of the explanation in a study by Professor Robert Emmons, U.C. Davis Psychologist and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. He has found that “those who regularly practice grateful thinking improved their happiness score by 25%. Since being grateful improves one’s happiness, so do these same qualities reportedly have a positive affect on one’s health.”
In a recent lecture Dr. Andrew Weil, noted leader in integrated medicines, described the term “infectious happiness” as an emotion that can spread from person to person. Weil further stated “that there is no question that who you choose to associate with can raise or lower your spirits, make you happy or sad, calm or anxious, comfortable or uncomfortable.” These are states that translate directly to being healthy or unhappy and these infectious happiness qualities can be quantified. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, one finding was that if a person lives less than a half mile from a happy friend, he has a 42% greater chance of being happy. This same infectious happiness can ripple through groups and organizations and has a profound effect on the happiness of those individuals.
Along with happiness, Weil spoke about the resultant health that can be achieved. Particularly interesting were Weil’s references to health in terms that place the individual in charge of his own. He suggested that a good way to improve one’s health was simply choosing to be with people who exemplify the lifestyle one wishes to emulate – that with whom you spend your time is important. He also commented that the stem word for medicine means to meditate. This places medicine and health squarely on thought.
Where is this headed? According to Weil and Emmons, our health is enriched if we make choices that involve meditative, grateful, joyous, and thoughtful lifestyles. What is interesting is that many of these ideas were expressed by writers of an earlier period. Mary Baker Eddy, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, wrote, “Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”
Evidence continues to mount that thought affects the body, especially thought qualities like gratitude, which researchers see as a rapidly growing field of study. Improved health and happiness may result more from spirituality and the mind than from drug-based traditional western medicine.