Health is the secret of happiness

In the long history of humanity, no goal has been imagined, discussed and pursued more consistently than happiness. Indeed, our persistent focus as a species on happiness – across centuries, continents and circumstances – is perhaps only matched by the diversity of the means by which we have sought to achieve it. From Greek philosophers like Aristotle, to religious texts like the Quran and the Bible, to the modern science of happiness and self-help books, happiness is a goal we never stop pursuing and a feeling we never stop longing for.

Although we have traditionally pursued happiness through relationships and religion, status and use of substances, money and material possessions, arguably the most lasting and powerful contribution to our happiness is the quality of our physical health. The profound influence of health on our ability to be happy is readily demonstrated in two ways: First, our state of health strongly influences how we feel. Energy, vitality, motivation and resilience are just some of the many dimensions that we typically describe as emotions that are often instead a manifestation of our physical health. While few would dispute that it is possible to experience happiness despite the malaise of medical illness, no one can deny that it is more difficult.

Second, the quality of our physical health determines the limits of what we can do. Even under the best of circumstances, the feeling of happiness can be as capricious as the weather or the stock market. It further limits our already fickle capacity for happiness with illnesses and disabilities that deprive our ability to move and change the world around us, engage and experience the people and concerns we care about, and happiness becomes as ephemeral as a rainbow.

Given the intimate connection between physical and mental health, coupled with research that points it right 2.7% of American adults are now physically healthy, based on the standards of not smoking, exercising regularly, consuming a nutritious diet and maintaining a recommended body fat level based on DEXA scans (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry; 1) – possibly not c It is no wonder that happiness levels in the United States have been declining since the 1990s (2).

How health becomes happiness or its opposite

Source: Thomas Rutledge

Evolving metabolic research and behavioral neuroscience offer even more precise insights into how our physical health directly and indirectly regulates our emotional well-being. As summarized in the figure above, our lifestyle habits and underlying biology form a symbiotic relationship that underlies our physical and mental health. Like the two sides of the same coin, physiological behaviors and processes operate as inseparable components of a recurring cycle throughout our life.

At all times, our feelings and functional capacities are the product of a complex interplay of processes occurring at the level of our genes and epigenome, the capacity of our organs and the state of our hormones and neurotransmitters. Although our emotions and behaviors are consequences of these processes, however, they are simultaneously causes in a vicious or virtuous circle of health. The quality of your sleep last night changed the status of hundreds of genes, the nutrition provided by your diet today offers an abundance or deficiency of the ingredients your body needs to create and convert neurotransmitters and hormones, and the frequency and The intensity of your physical activity during the day changes the function of dozens of hormones and even alters the state of your gut microbiome (3).

Informed by modern research, it becomes impossible to see our daily life choices as irrelevant. They are in fact powerful control levers and switches that determine our capacity for health and happiness.

More than ever, we know that happiness is an inner game. As science empowers us with a growing understanding of the human body, the connection between mind, body and spirit recognized by philosophers centuries ago can be explained as an interaction between our behaviors and biology. However, this research offers more than one explanation for this phenomenon. It also reveals the remarkable power our health habits have in enhancing our potential for happiness.

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