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Why Happiness Really is the Best Medicine

Happy People Study:  The Happy Outperform the Unhappy in Stroke Recovery   

There’s a great radio show I love listening to, and every Friday, he devotes an entire hour to the topic of happiness.  Appropriately, he refers to the second hour of Friday’s broadcast as “The Happiness Hour.”  During the hour, he fields calls and questions from around the country about some topic related to

happiness – whether it is gratitude, serving others or the importance of responsibility – and what things we as people can do to make our lives happier.  After all, as he likes to say, “The happy make life better and the unhappy make life worse.”  In fact, according to a new study, happiness may make life better by speeding the recovery time from serious health issues.

You’ve no doubt heard in your travels that happiness is the best medicine; that happiness tends to beget happiness.  You know, it’s the old “always look at the bright side of your life” tactic.  Just a bunch of corny mumbo jumbo, right?  But it’s the practice of this so-called “mumbo jumbo” that seems to have worked wonders on patients who’ve left the hospital after suffering a stroke.

Writing in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers recount their analysis of over 800 patients age 55 and over who’ve recently suffered from a stroke.  After three months, the researchers had each of the patients take two tests.  One was an emotional test, where respondents answered a series of questions that gauged their level of happiness on a 12-point scale.  The other was a test called a Functional Independence Measurement (FIM), which is a test administered to people who’ve suffered some traumatic health effects, are developmentally challenged or have other disabilities. It basically assesses how capable someone is to function independently, without the assistance of others.

According to the results, the patients’ level of happiness on the 12-point emotional scale was significantly correlated to how the patients’ scored on the FIM; in short, the happier they were, the more capable they were of functioning without someone’s help.  To paraphrase one of the study’s lead researchers, Dr. Glenn V., Ostir of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, stroke victims who are optimistic are rewarded with greater functionality than those who are pessimistic about their recovery. 

But it’s this idea that happiness could improve one’s ability to heal from a health malady like a stroke reconfirms to me what a vast influence our minds and our attitudes have in determining how healthy we will be.     

As you know, the things I traditionally promote in this space every week are devoted to all things natural. But I’m going to break with tradition for a moment and advise that you not dabble in something that seems to come naturally: unhappiness.  Happiness takes work, but choosing to act happy – even when you don’t necessarily feel like it – begets happiness.  And as these researchers’ study demonstrated, happiness just may be the antidote to the downtrodden and their overall recovery after suffering something as serious as a stroke.

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