Research: Happiness Breeds Healthiness

By Bernie Delinski

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To Jamie Springer, Happy Hollow is the most fitting name he can think of for his community.

“It's just a nice community,” said Springer, who works at Happy Hollow Market. “I can't even mow my lawn, for people honking their horn to say hello, and sometimes stopping and talking.

I wouldn't trade it for any place right now. It's a place where you just come by, sit under a tree and chat.”

Springer said the Lauderdale County community has had its nickname for years. He believes the name sprang from the fact that people often camped there, near the water, and had a good time.

According to a growing trend that goes by names such as “positive psychology” and “the science of happiness,” the community also is good for your health.

A 2009 Time magazine article credits University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman with starting the field of positive psychology more than 10 years ago. The field evaluates what makes us happy and fulfilled and the physiological connection between that and health.

Tuscumbia resident Angela Scoggin said the notion makes sense.

“It makes a difference,” Scoggin said, while watching her 3-year-old granddaughter, Justice, play at Spring Park in Tuscumbia. “You can make yourself sick if you worry about everything.”

Scoggin's advice: “Don't dwell on things. Think positively about life.”

She then glanced at Justice's smiling face. “Grandchildren make you pretty happy, too,” she said.

Back at Happy Hollow Market, Lexington resident Rebecca Jones was sharing a conversation and some laughs with a friend. She appreciates the notion behind positive psychology.

“Just like mom and I were talking about this morning: Just be grateful for what you have, because it always could be worse,” Jones said. “As long as you have necessities, everything else is luxuries, and we don't necessarily need luxuries.

“I'm just thankful to God every day.”

The comments from Springer, Scoggin and Jones appear to correlate with hints the Time article provides for happiness.

Among them: count your blessings, laugh, take time to enjoy life, smile and have faith.

St. Florian Town Clerk Carlene Moomaw has a reputation for a perpetual smile and hearty laugh.

She credits that with helping her get through an accident five years ago, when she fell on a slippery back doorstep at home.

Initially, the injury left her partially paralyzed on her left side.

“At first I was upset, but then I turned my attitude completely around and thanked God I'm not permanently paralyzed,” Moomaw said. “I just felt blessed.

“They kept telling me, ‘you may not get it back, ever,' but I thought, ‘I'm getting it back.' They just don't know how hard-headed I am.”

Today, Moomaw can walk again and has mostly recovered.

“I still take medications for it and will have to for the rest of my life, but you know what? I can walk,” she said.

Philadelphia hosted the First World Congress on Positive Psychology in 2009. The Time article states organizers hoped to get 800 people at the event. They ended up with about 1,600, which indicates the concept is gaining popularity. The crowd represented various fields, including psychology and education. More than 50 nations were represented.

Research at Carnegie Mellon found people who possess a “positive emotional style” are more immune to cold and flu viruses when exposed in a lab. The magazine article states researchers believe those with positive attitudes release more levels of cytokines, which are proteins that regulate immune responses.

Other findings mentioned in the article:
  • A team of psychologists reviewed 225 studies of more than 275,000 people. The study began with the assumption that success breeds happiness. What it discovered instead is it's the other way around — happy people are more likely to become successful. The study found happy people are more likely to seek opportunities and set goals.
  • We can “learn” to be optimistic. Psychologist Mary Ann Troiani, co-author of “Spontaneous Optimism,” lists three ways to enhance optimism.
Those include straightening your body through means such as good posture, taking big steps and walking quickly with your shoulders back and head up. A second way is to change your voice so that it carries a cheerful, energetic tone. She also recommends so-called happy words, such as “challenge” instead of “problem.”

Troiani states these actions enhance serotonin levels, so your body signals to you that you're happy.
  • University of Warwick researchers discovered those who marry someone who is happy are more likely to be happy, as well.
  • Laughter releases feel-good chemicals, and the physical actions associated with frequent laughter make you more healthy.
  • A study of various autobiographies found that those who reflected positive attitudes in their books lived longer.
None of those findings surprise Moomaw.

“I really do believe in the power of attitude and happiness,” she said. “I also believe this: you make your own happiness. You can look at the glass as half empty or half full.

“I make sure I thank God for things every day. You can make a bad day out of any day, but I'd much rather have a good day every day.”

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