By Kristen Fischer
Today, I slipped on the most perfect pair of leggings ever known to woman. Though my soft and snug pants brought a smile to my face when they slipped on effortlessly and didn’t grip my waist too tightly, it was nothing compared to the smile that came across my face when I stepped out into the morning sun. I looked up to the glow despite the brisk, cool morning and remembered how pleased I was simply to be alive. And yes, how happy I was to spend the day in my new favorite pants.
Was I content because I finally found the perfect blend of cotton and spandex, or was it something more?
I drive an SUV I adore, but really, it’s just a hunk of metal. My house is cozy and decorated to my pure delight, but the truth is that it is a replaceable pile of bricks. That sunshine – especially the glow in my heart – is what really makes me smile. The amusement I take in intangible things, being able to realize my dreams and being surrounded by people in my life whom I adore bring me happiness. The skills I’ve cultivated in being able express gratitude for these aspects are what really makes me one pretty happy girl.
That kind of inner happiness can make life worth living – and make it last longer, too.
Two Types of Happiness, One is “Healthier” For You
If you possess that level of inner bliss and purpose, that is known as eudaimonic happiness. The type of joy that revolves around a great purse or a luxury vacation is called hedonic happiness. Both are rewarding and most of us enjoy a blend of each, but they can have different effects on our health.
Dr. Stephen Cole, Ph.D., a professor of medicine, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, found that people who had high eudaimonic well-being have stronger immune systems that don’t contribute to inflammation-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neurodengenerative diseases and certain cancers.
“This doesn’t guarantee these people won’t get these kinds of diseases, of course. It just means their immune systems appear to be steering in a more favorable direction,” Cole said.
On the flip side, those with higher levels of hedonic happiness will not necessarily acquire one of those ailments. In his research, though, he discovered that people who experience this pleasure-driven type of happiness have immune systems that seem to have a higher risk for such diseases.
Material Things Are Nice, but Inner Happiness is Necessary … Sort of
Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life, says she has many patients that have just about everything money can buy. Without eudaimonic happiness, though, they are quite miserable.
“Nothing on the outside could ever make you happy if you’re not happy on the inside,” she explained.
Must we really improve inner happiness if we want to be healthy – and truly happier? No, not necessarily.
While living a healthy lifestyle may replicate the effects of eudiamonic happiness, Cole said more research is needed to see if shifting to a more purpose-driven existence will have a positive biological impact on longevity or health. Translation: If your contentment is based on the latest Essie colors for the season, you’ll still live.
You may be happier on the whole, however, if you develop more happiness with yourself and your life. You know, smell some roses and all that.
“Focusing more time and attention on pursuing the things you care most about in life, such as the people, causes, and goals you care about, and spending less time focusing solely on self-gratification…those are the kinds of things that would lead to a more purpose-centered life,” Cole said.
Cultivating True Happiness
To create a more meaningful life and derive happiness from it, Orloff recommends practicing gratitude – even if the possession you are most thankful for is the ring on your finger. Write a list of a few things you treasure and remind yourself to concentrate on them at different times during the day. Focus on positive thoughts and aspects of your life, especially those that involve love or people you care about.
That shifts your mindset to one that draws appreciation from the little things – and provides happiness even if life is handing you a Costco-sized bag of lemons. Like they say, there’s always something to be happy about.
When you pinpoint those things and make changes in your life that align with what you want in your heart, you’re on your way to a more deeper sense of satisfaction.
“Allow yourself to take that pleasure in,” Orloff said.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with taking delight in a caramel macchiato, a brand new pair of Jimmy Choos or pants that make you want to spend hours on a yoga mat. Just make sure to take in your surroundings as you sip, stride or stretch.
All around you, there are things to be grateful for … things to be happy about. Center yourself on the ones that make your heart smile and you’re well on your way to a happier, healthier – and perhaps longer – life.