Optimal Levels of Well-Being: Laughter, Happiness, and Good Relationships
It’s almost Valentine’s Day! Keep in mind this February 14th
that optimal human health lies beyond the mere absence of illness. Part of optimizing health is maintaining the HAPY phenotype, which includes having a
sense of purpose and direction in life, having good quality relationships with others and opportunities to realize one’s potential.
* This in turn contributes to a physiological homeostasis of the body (Franco,
Karnik 2009, Salovey et al 2000). The heavenly seven are not mutually exclusive or compartmentalized, and improvements you make to your lifestyle in one area
can result is positive outcomes in others. For example, physical activity has benefits for your mental well-being in addition to benefits in physical health
- a 2005 review found that regular physical activity improved general as well as health related quality of life, improvements in functional capacity and
better mood states (Penedo et al 2005).
* Happiness predicts longevity among healthy populations, showing strong evidence
of protection against becoming ill (Ryff et al 2006, Ryff et al 2004).
* Well-being is a complex multi-dimensional concept and there are two main
approaches to its study: (Ryan et al 2001):
(i) The eudemonic approach: centers on the fulfillment of personal potential and living a meaningful life
and is concerned with having purpose in life, self-acceptance, personal growth and positive inter-personal relationships. Eudemonia is a classical Greek word
commonly translated as ‘fulfillment of potential’.
(ii) The hedonic approach (also known as subjective well-being or happiness) refers to personal satisfaction,
happiness and contentment. Hedonic derives from the Greek word hedonismos meaning delight.
* Well-being contributes to the effective functioning of all human biological
systems aiding to maintain resilience, to avoid vulnerability and the occurrence of disease, and to accelerate rapid and satisfactory recovery.
* Ryff, Singer and Love provided preliminary evidence from a sample of older
women (over 65) that individuals with higher levels of eudemonic well-being had lower levels of daily salivary cortisol, pro inflammatory cytokines,
cardiovascular risk, and longer duration of REM sleep than those with lower levels of eudemonic well-being (Ryff, Singer 2004).
* Further, the relationship between work and well-being points out that lack of
paid employment was more strongly associated with a reduction in positive feelings than with an increase in psychological symptoms. Women over 65 in paid
employment were found to have a very high level of positive well-being.
* Stay social and engaged: volunteering, writing, painting, traveling, generally
doing activities that keep your body and mind working and thinking, respectively.
* Cognitive functioning:
Myth: aging is a time of irreversible mental decline and that dementia is universal and inevitable.
* Mental functioning: Having a clear and active mind is important because it can
mean the difference between dependence and independent living.
* Purpose in life: researchers at Rush Medical Center in Chicago recently found
that having a higher level of ‘purpose in life’ was associated with longer life in community dwelling older persons. Those who had greater purpose in life had
57% lower mortality risk.
* The spread of happiness in a large social network – happiness of others can
spread over time.
* Cohen and Pressman, 2006 positive affect and health, suggest there is an
association between positive emotions from people typical emotional experience ‘trait affective style’ and positive health, less sickness, lower morbidity and
decreased symptoms of pain (Cohen et al 2006).
* Also, findings from the Whitehall II study, for example, have shown that high
levels of well-being are associated with reduced neuroendocrine, inflammatory, and cardiovascular activity (Steptoe et al 2008, 2008).
* Adequate management of stress has been associated with a 24% decrease risk of
stroke (Surtees et al 2007). This suggests that interventions should aim to impact positive well-being in order to sustain both physiological and
psychological homeostasis, therein maintaining resilience and the absence of frailty and disease.