Public awareness of depression has grown substantially during recent years, to the benefit of many individuals. But recently, health experts have shifted some of the focus to dissecting happiness, too, and considering its impact on long-term health.
Happiness is often dictated by one's general outlook on life. Everyone falls somewhere along the optimism/pessimism spectrum, and your personal position appears to have significant health implications.
For example, optimists handle stress better, as indicated physically by their decreased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. This, in turn, boosts immunity, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), who reported that students who were marked as optimists had less fatigue and fewer coughs, aches and pains during the last month of a semester than their less optimistic peers.Laughter, which often flows more freely when you're feeling optimistic and happy, plays a role in the process also by lowering stress hormones and blood pressure and reducing pain. In addition, laughter increases the number and activity of natural "killer" cells that fight illness.
Evidence exists that some negative emotion and behavior is learned. If you persistently prevent a lab rat from escaping a negative stimulus, it will eventually quit trying to escape, even when escape becomes possible. It makes sense, then, that the opposite is also true -- that people can learn positive emotions and behavior.
Here's how you can improve your outlook: Identify and rephrase negative thoughts. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "I didn't do very well," try saying, "I did the best I could right now, and I can improve." Choose a positive approach. When you run into an obstacle, don't throw up your hands in defeat. Try to view it as a challenge -- something over which you exercise some control -- and begin brainstorming steps to get past it. Surround yourself with positive people and learn from their examples. Always look for something positive within a negative situation. You just got laid off from your job, but you've been considering a career change for some time. Now you have the perfect opportunity! Step back from troubling situations and view the big picture. How critical is the current "crisis" in the greater scope of your life? Chances are it's not as overwhelming as you think. Get physical. Exercise goes way beyond improving your fitness and health. It also has a dramatic affect on your mood and self-esteem. And with the right instructor or trainer, your workout can actually be something fun that you look forward to.A resistance ball is the perfect tool for a fun, functional workout. The dynamic nature of the ball improves balance and core stability. Start by sitting on the ball to get used to how it feels. Place your feet firmly on the floor in a wide stance and place your hands on your hips. Pull your abdominal muscles in tight and bounce around a little. Stay in control and keep your hips in contact with the ball, but don't be afraid to get a little silly and act like a kid. Once you are acclimated, sit up tall and move your hips from side to side. This will strengthen your core muscles and challenge your postural reflexes. Go ahead and move your hips in circles and figure eights to further challenge yourself, all while having a little fun, of course!Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise, Inc., a company she founded to franchise her international dance fitness program.2005. Jazzercise, Inc. Distributed by the Tribune Media Services