The adage, “Don’t worry, be happy,” suddenly has a lot more weight behind it, thanks to the latest medical research. In the first-ever systematic review of happiness and heart health, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have found that a positive outlook on life can actually protect your heart from cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Heart Association, over 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day. Studies over the past few decades have shown links between stress and health. In this comprehensive review of over 200 studies of various forms of well-being and cardiovascular health outcomes, Harvard researchers Julia Boehm and Laura Kubzansky discovered that certain psychological traits—optimism, positive emotions and a sense of meaning—offer measurable protection against heart attacks and strokes. These characteristics have been found to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease as well.
Boehm says that even when measured separately, optimism can play a major role in whether an individual will suffer from a heart attack or stroke. She and Kubzansky found that the most optimistic individuals had approximately 50 percent less chance of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.
The researchers reviewed questionnaires in which people were asked to indicate the extent to which they feel hopeful about their futures or feel positive emotions. They then related those to the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. “The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive,” says Boehm. “In general, psychology has been trying to fix what’s wrong with people, but there’s also an increasing interest in what people might be doing right.”