7 Awesome Side Effects of Happiness

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Maybe, for whatever reason, you’re not into happiness. All that smiling and friendliness just seems like too much work. You’ve got bills to pay. Work to be done. And after all, happiness can seem like a selfish pursuit.

Not so fast. Happiness is considered by many to be the ultimate end in life, but if you’re not on the bandwagon, you should know that happiness brings along a slew of side effects. Happiness predicts a lot of other things that most of us are interested in.

In fact, it might actually help you pay the bills and finish your work—and it’s actually more predictive of selflessness than selfishness. Here are seven other benefits that come as part of the happiness package.

Experience Reduced Stress (and a Healthier Heart)

Happiness lowers our levels of stress. When facing a potentially stressful event, happy people are more likely to interpret the situation as challenging and beneficial in some way and will find more meaning in past stressors. This mindset leads to better coping and more solution-oriented behavior. Other studies have shown a direct link between happiness and the stress hormone cortisol. When people were asked to rate their own happiness and then give a few blood sample across two days, the happiest 20% of people had cortisol levels that were 32% lower than the least happy 20%. Over time, these stress differences add up. Happy people have lower resting heart rates, reduced fibrinogen (a blood-clotting protein resulting from stress that is associated with cardiovascular disease), and lower systolic blood pressure.

Be More Productive

When we’re happy, we’re more likely to apply ourselves diligently and doggedly to a task. In a University of Warwick study, participants who were induced into a happy mood—by either watching a comedy clip or being fed a snack of fruit and chocolate—were 12% more productive than a control group at a demanding arithmetic task.

When a negative mood was induced in other participants, productivity decreased by roughly the same amount. The effects seem to occur as a combination of changes to both efficiency and effort.

Have More Friends

It is surely true that having a rich and meaningful social life increases happiness, but the opposite is also true. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson proposed that a primary function of positive emotion is to help us broaden our attention and build resources. And our relationships may be one area where this effect is most obvious. When we share positive interactions with others, we build a sense of belonging and commitment that can be relied on later. Happy people—as shown simply through an authentic smile—are rated as more likeable and more approachable, and individuals in a positive mood are both seen as more trustworthy and are more trusting.

Be More Creative—and Accurate

If, as mentioned earlier, positive emotions exist to expand our view and help us to see resources around us, then it makes sense that happy people are better equipped to think outside the proverbial box that negative emotions can keep us honed in on. One study assessed doctors’ ability to make a fast and accurate diagnosis of a patient, when many variables are at play and creative thinking is necessary.

A common error doctors make is jumping to a diagnosis decision quickly and then sticking with that decision even as information that contradicts it appears. In the study, doctors in a positive mood made an accurate diagnosis in half the time and were much more open about considering other possibilities in light of new information.

Earn Higher Income

Being happy today predicts more money in the future. In a study that tracked students over a period of time, people who rated themselves one point higher on a 1-to-5 scale of happiness at age 22 earned, on average, $2,000 more in annual income at age 29.

Be a Kinder Person

We know from many research findings that acting generously is a robust way to boost our own happiness, but one study shows that happiness makes us kinder. Study participants were asked to remember a time they spent money on someone else as a gift or donation. Then they were given a small sum of money and told they could spend it on themselves or on someone else (and that their choice would be anonymous). The people who chose to spend on someone else were the ones who experienced greater happiness thinking about their previous generosity.

Sleep More Soundly

Yes, being happy will help you sleep better. A study examined the difference between people whose happiness is consistent like a personality trait and others who experience happiness more as a reaction to external events. Those with a deeper, trait-like happiness—the kind that comes from practicing gratitude, kindness, and optimism—had better overall sleep quality and experienced more rested feelings in the morning. 

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