Becoming happier makes people healthier, research finds.
People who used standard psychological techniques to feel happier over 12 weeks subsequently felt healthier and were less likely to be off work sick.
Participants worked at improving their core self, experiential self and social self over 12 weeks.
The approaches taught to people during the study included increasing feelings of gratitude, focusing on personal strengths and learning to be more mindful.
Dr Kostadin Kushlev, the study’s first author, said:
“Though prior studies have shown that happier people tend to have better cardiovascular health and immune-system responses than their less happy counterparts, our research is one of the first randomized controlled trials to suggest that increasing the psychological well-being even of generally healthy adults can have benefits to their physical health.”
The study included 155 people aged 25-75, half of whom worked at boosting their happiness over 12 weeks.
They were taught three different psychological techniques for boosting their happiness.
The first, which they focused on for 3 weeks, was ‘core self’.
This involves identifying personal strengths, goals and values.
People who identify and practice their personal strengths — in other words, do what they are good at — tend to feel happier.
For the next 5 weeks, people focused on their experiential self.
This involved practising mindfulness and emotional regulation.
For the final 4 weeks, people cultivated their social selves, looking at ways to improve their feelings of gratitude and to increase positive social interactions.
Dr Kushlev said:
“All of the activities were evidence-based tools to increase subjective well-being.”
The results showed that people in the intervention group felt significantly happier afterwards and were less likely to take days off work sick.
People who were taught the happiness techniques online improved just as much as those taught face-to-face.
Dr Kushlev said:
“These results speak to the potential of such interventions to be scaled in ways that reach more people in environments such as college campuses to help increase happiness and promote better mental health among students.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Kushlev et al., 2020).