Happiness is something that every human being strives to have, some could even say it is instinctual to want to be happy. People have even come to a conclusion that happy people are just overall healthier than the opposing not happy person and that happy humans live longer. This statement has shown itself in many magazines and health websites that seem to blatantly claim “Want to be healthy? Just be happy”. But is it really that simple? What if I am happy and I get sick? Am I not actually happy? The question of whether happiness will actually lead to a healthier life have led people to question and challenge if it is possible to heal with happiness.
There are many different ways to approach researching this question. One way researchers have interpreted this question is whether negative emotions can lead to illness or harm to the human body. Scientist Richard Davidson led a study with researchers from both the University of Wisconsin and Princeton University that linked the relationship of a strong immune system with activity in the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex. There have been many previous studies that find a correlation between negative emotions and their effect on the immune system but Davidson’s study is one of the first to associate this phenomenon with the brain.
He created an experiment where he gathered 52 men and women Wisconsin graduates and made some of them write down on paper the worst memory they have (an event where they felt the most emotionally distressed or sad) while others had to write down the best memory they had (where they recount when they felt the happiest). He then measured their prefrontal cortex activity. After measuring their brain activity, he then gave them all flu shots. He continued to measure their antibody levels after two, four, and six months. Davidson found a strong correlation between the people whom wrote down positive memories and their antibody levels compared to the subjects whom wrote down negative memories. The researchers still did not have enough evidence to be able to find a mechanism for it.
Of course the question can be reversed, with people wondering why are healthier people happier? Is it the happiness making them healthy or do they just have good habits? One explanation could be that most people know that exercise is a key role in being healthy, and exercise releases endorphins in the brain which can lead to a positive mood, therefore people observe that they are happier. It can also be said that those who do not participate in healthy habits such as exercising and eating right are not happy because they recognize that they are not partaking in healthy activities and are unhappy with their body or lifestyle.
In summary, it is still not decided whether simply being happy can boost your immune system and make you less likely to get sick, but there are many studies showing negative emotions and stress can in fact harm your body and weaken your immune system, you can read about a few of them here.