Health and happiness are two things we all want in life, but what if happiness, actually gave your health a boost too? Studies into the link between happiness and our immune systems are being done all the time, and some of them have some pretty interesting findings.
Is there something inherent about happiness that kicks our immune system into high gear? Or are happier people just more likely to live a healthier lifestyle? We’ve got some answers with two of the key studies into this link.
A 2017 study of 160 participants of all ages investigated the relationship between acts of kindness and happiness. It was found that people who carried out regular acts of kindness over 4 weeks, experienced an increase in immune-response functions. Although, the study did not measure how long these effects would last after the instance of kindness.1 But it’s still worth buying your mate a coffee the next time you’re out.
So, acts of kindness could help with our immune responses, but what about happiness specifically? A study in 2003 found an even more explicit link between the two. It compared the immune responses of people who typically experience more positive emotions, to those who experience negative ones. Over 300 adults experiencing these different kinds of emotions were given nasal drops containing the common cold virus.2
The study found that those who regularly experience emotions like happiness, contentment, and relaxation, were more resistant to the virus than those who more regularly experience emotions of anxiousness and depression.2 So much so that those who were typically more negative were found to be 3 times more susceptible to the common cold than those who experienced more positive emotions.
This 2003 study also found that it was pretty clear that happier, more contented people are more likely to participate in healthier behaviours regularly. They were much more likely to regularly work out, eat healthily and just generally stay active.
Take Home Message
It’s clear that there is some kind of link between happiness and our immune systems. But how much of this effect lies with happiness itself compared to the fact that happier people tend to make healthier lifestyle choices is still a little blurry.
One thing that is clear, is that it’s nice to be nice. Enacting random acts of kindness will always make you, and someone else feel good. And it might even help fight off a cold too.
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1. Nelson-Coffey SK, Fritz MM, Lyubomirsky S, Cole SW. Kindness in the blood: A randomized controlled trial of the gene regulatory impact of prosocial behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 Jul;81:8-13. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.03.025. Epub 2017 Mar 31. PMID: 28395185.
2. Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Turner RB, Alper CM, Skoner DP. Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosom Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):652-7. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000077508.57784.da. PMID: 12883117.