Happiness, optimism and a sense of life purpose can influence physical health

Associate professor Sarah Pressman publishes study linking happiness and well-being.

Feelings of life enjoyment and satisfaction can influence physical health according to a new review study, co-authored by Sarah Pressman, associate professor of psychology and social behavior. Researchers found that by cultivating happiness and positive perceptions, individuals can improve their immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as the body’s ability to heal from injuries.

"In our review, we found that greater contentment, optimism, a sense of life purpose, low stress and other indicators of subjective well-being are tied to better health and longevity, including surviving serious diseases, and even avoiding acute illnesses," Pressman said.

Although she and the team are confident in the positive connection between a higher sense of subjective well-being and physical condition, there is still debate in the scientific community about how, and under which conditions, certain emotions affect the body.

"It’s clear from this review that subjective well-being influences health, but we need to find out more," Pressman said. "We are now looking at the full set of conditions that drive when happiness affects health – and when intervention programs aimed at well-being will work to improve physical health."

Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Utah and the University of Virginia, and UCI psychology & social behavior doctoral students John Hunter and Desiree Chase were the other research team members.

-July 25, 2017