Every time I look around I find another article about what happiness can do for someone. The most recent article was in the Los Angeles Times, where Amina Khan reported that, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, happiness can actually help people make more money.
“Whether smart or simple, tall or short, self-confident or insecure, happier people earned bigger paychecks than more doleful peers: Deeply unhappy teens’ future incomes were 30% lower than the average, while very happy teems earned 10% above average.”
While this study shows that the outward expression of happiness can benefit our pocketbooks, there is also evidence showing its value to health and our general well-being.
In a recent lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil, noted leader in integrated medicines, he described “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 qualities that translate directly to being healthy or unhappy and these “infectious happiness” qualities can be quantified.
One finding of a study published in the British Medical Journal 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.
Happiness not only affects the external environment – relationships with others, and increased financial success – but also generates a healthier body and mind. 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 how in a study by Professor Robert A. 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.”
Evidence continues to mount that thought affects the body, especially qualities like gratitude, which researchers see as a rapidly growing field of study. Some say improved health and happiness may result more from increased spirituality and less from external materialistic achievements. How, then, would one improve or increase one’s spirituality? Author Maggie Lyon in an article entitled, “Making Room for Spiritual Practice,” defines spiritual practice as something you do every single day that draws you deeper into who you really are, by connecting you with your divine self.
Having been an advocate of this type of spiritual practice for decades, I agree with her description of the discipline it takes. “You must designate, carve out, and stick to the time for it, often letting go of something else in order to keep it alive. Many people find it easiest to maintain a practice first thing in the morning. But what does that mean you give up? Sleep? Or is it the extra hour on the computer before bed the night before so that you don’t lose the time in bed?”
I have a set study time each morning for reading and studying from Scripture as well as the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, along with quiet time for prayer. I can quantify the improvement of my personal health and happiness by using this consistent practice to develop my spirituality.
Photo © GLOW IMAGES. Models used for illustrative purposes.