Happy people are generally healthier people. There is a mounting body of evidence that our moods and thinking play an important role in our health outcomes—from stress triggering more illness and slower recoveries, to happiness creating a healthy disease-fighting immune system. And while it seems laughable to modern medical practitioners that humor and happiness could do better than their Big Pharma solutions, some who have seen the impact of happiness on health first hand are laughing heartily with good reason.
In 1964, magazine editor Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritis-type auto-immune disease that affects the spine. Doctors gave him a one-in-500 chance of recovery. He scoffed at their prognosis and began a new type of therapy—happiness therapy—self-medicating with regular doses of mood-boosting movies and activities which he ultimately credited with his “dramatic recovery.” Considered one of the forefathers of what’s known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), Cousins was one of the first to demonstrate the impact of moods on health.
As Mercola reports, research has also demonstrated that poor moods can similarly impact health. One study found the tendency to always expect the worst in situations was tied to a 25 percent higher risk of dying before age 65.
Stress is a risk factor for heart disease, but the link between moods and health goes further than stress triggering high blood pressure. Studies in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that the brain is “directly wired to the immune system”, as Scientific American puts it. Parts of the nervous system are connected to parts of the body that regulate immune function like the thymus and bone marrow. Because immune cells also have receptors for neurotransmitters (the messengers of the nervous system), there is evidence this communication is direct.
Despite this clear evidence of a direct relationship between the brain (moods and happiness) and the immune system (health and illness-prevention), conventional medical practitioners are still suspicious of PNI.
“If you talk to any high-quality neurobiologist or immunologist about PNI, it will invariably generate a little snicker,” says Stephen Smale, an immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But this doesn’t mean the topic should be ignored forever. Someday we need to confront it and try to understand how the immune system and nervous system interact.”
While science and the medical world try and sort out their beliefs on the field, you don’t have to wait to put what we already know into action:
- Foster healthy, happy relationships
- Smile often
- Laugh regularly
- Meditate and destress