Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

A study has found that happier people are healthier, have fewer heart attacks and strokes.Happy people tend to have fewer heart attacks and strokes, evidence that a positive attitude is heart-healthy, according to a study conducted by Columbia University Medical Center. Researchers tracked 1,739 healthy Canadian adults living in Nova Scotia to determine if positive personality traits such as happiness, contentment and enthusiasm impact risk for heart disease.

Prior to the study, researchers determined the participants’ degree of negative emotions such as depression, hostility and anxiety.  They also measured positive emotions, including joy, happiness and excitement.  Although naturally happy people do experience depression and other negative emotions at times, lead researcher Karina W. Davidson, PhD, recognizes that this is usually caused by a certain situation and is transient.  “We know from previous studies that negative emotion is predictive of heart disease,” Davidson said.  “We wanted to find out if positive affect is protective.”

Taking known risk factors into account, the researchers found that the happiest people were 22 percent less likely to develop heart disease over the study’s 10 years when compared with individuals who fell in the middle of the negative-positive emotion scale.  The most negative people had the highest risk of heart disease.  According to Davidson, “It is just speculation at this point, but there are several possible explanations for how happiness may protect the heart.”

Happy people tend to have a healthier lifestyle, eat better, sleep well, smoke less and exercise more.  Another finding is that happiness may produce positive chemical changes in the body, such as a reduction in stress hormones.  Genetic influences could mean that people who are predisposed to happiness also tend to have fewer heart attacks.

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