Here’s How Happiness Helps The Immune System
- 2 mins read
- Written by: Dr. Jatin Bhide
In the past year, we as humans have been forced to acclimate to a “new normal”, one that involves extra caution, fewer outings, and much more time spent around the house. It’s been tough for most people and finding happiness in these trying times is harder than it’s ever been. But finding your spark of joy is important not just for your mental health, but for your immune system too.
Though it was an idea once scoffed at by scientists, researchers have uncovered over recent years that being happier does in fact make you healthier. In particular, a better overall mood makes for a stronger immunity. According to one study happiness increases your secretory immunoglobulin A, also known as antibodies, and causes a decrease in salivary cortisol, which is partially responsible for stress.
Smile for your health
Research found that, when accounting for variables like age and general health, adults who reported being happier and in better moods had stronger responses to the influenza virus. These happy folks showed better cytokine production, which is a protein that helps your immune system fight off illnesses.
This is particularly true when it comes to colds, chest infections, and the flu. In fact, people who often experience anger, frustration, or sadness are three times more likely to catch a cold than those who are more centered in their lives.
Be happy, live healthy
It doesn’t just stop there either. When you’re happier, you’re more likely to engage in healthier activities and habits. Happiness in your life makes you less likely to engage in harmful habits like smoking, more likely to monitor your food choices, helps you sleep better, and even subconsciously encourages you to eat more fruits.
You’re also more likely to partake in regular physical activity when you’re happy. Think about it, are you more likely to go for an evening run when you’ve had a good day at the office or when everything is going belly up at work? This creates a positive cycle, because exercise has been shown to boost your endorphin levels, a hormone that acts in similar fashion as the chemical morphine and helps reduce pain and stress. It creates what’s colloquially called a “runners high”, a post-workout feeling that lifts your mood up for a time afterwards.
This healthier lifestyle does wonders to maintain your good health and keep your immune system strong, helping you lower your body fat and blood pressure, improving your heart functioning, and strengthening your muscles.
Fight stress with a laugh
Another benefit is that being happy makes it easier to fight off the long-term effects of stress in your life. Daily stress, whether from work, children, or something else, is short-term. It causes your cortisol levels to rise, the hormone notorious for disrupting your sleep, causing weight gain, and spiking your blood pressure.
Without a break between stressful situations or a way to unwind, your cortisol levels can remain higher than normal, causing adverse effects in the long run. But even in the short-term, researchers found that happier people had lower cortisol levels than unhappy people performing the same stressful tasks. And those levels persisted in the unhappiest participants, even three years later.
So, don’t hesitate to take time off for yourself. Engage in your hobbies, spend quality time with your family, partake in nature. Care for your mental health and it’ll return the favour by gifting you with a stronger immune system.