Jan 5, 2017

Interview Transcript

Dr. Jones: There is so much out there about happiness and health, "It's good for your health." "Cynicism increases your risk for cancer." "Your outlook doesn't really matter." Well, this is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care, and this is about happiness on The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is The Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: First of all, full disclosure, I am an unbridled optimist. Well, not exactly but most of the time. And when I read studies about outlook and health, I favor studies that suggest that an optimistic outlook and happiness is good for your health. It turns out that there's a bunch of research that tends in that direction.

In 2004 and in 2008, researchers asked 70,000 women to rate their level of optimism on a questionnaire. The average age was about 70 years old at the beginning of the study, and that is a whole lot of older women. They also asked questions about educational and socioeconomic status, and smoking and alcohol consumption, and cancer and hypertension and other diseases.

Those with the highest category of optimism, they had a 40% decrease in heart disease and stroke, compared to those with the least optimism. Okay, I'm optimistic about that. The Women's Health Initiative followed 50,000 women over many years, and found that women with the highest score of negativity and cynicism also had an increased risk for cancer. Not a huge amount though, so don't get too down, all you pessimists.

There have been many studies and general consensus over millennia that happy people are healthier, but the research is mixed and it's burdened by the fact that this is not a randomized study. Those studies are also American women, and the Million Women Study in Britain which was just published, which followed women for 10 years, didn't find an association of the lack of happiness with increased mortality. But the optimist American in me says, "That's because British weather is so bad."

Now, these studies are association studies and there may be many reasons why happy people are healthier or have better health outcomes. Maybe it's because happy people are in denial about their health. At least, that's what the pessimists say.

However, if given a choice, most of us would choose being happy over being grumpy and sad. So how much of your mood can you control? A twin study looking at identical twins versus fraternal twins said just about 25% of a happy tendency is genetic. The other 75% must be environmental, so there's some room to move here. There is a journal of happiness studies, that's the name of it, "The Journal of Happiness Studies," which looks at happiness stuff and identifies some behaviors that can increase a sense of happiness and well-being, not just for today but for months. Here are eight of them, and you all know most of them.

Number one, count your blessings. Even people in the worst circumstances have things which are going right for them. Some of the happiest people in the world are African, often who don't have very much money and their social situation looks kind of bleak but they count their blessings.

Number two, practice acts of kindness. Being kind to others and helping someone other than yourself has rewards that go well beyond the day that you do it.

Three, savor life's joys. They can be small ones, but pay attention and enjoy it, "Wow, that latte was so good."

Four, thank a mentor or someone who has helped you in a letter delivered personally. The writing of the letter helps you remember that someone was kind and good to you, and delivering it back to them in person solidifies that sense of well-being.

Five, learn to forgive. Holding onto anger is tough and toxic.

Six, invest time and energy in friends and family.

Seven, take care of your body.

Eight, develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships which includes steps one through seven. Then, take a deep breath, or 10 deep breaths, and start from the top.

Now, if you are anxious or depressed and making changes in your life isn't helping, you should definitely seek and reach out for help. You're not alone in this, even though it feels like it. Taking steps toward happiness will make your life lighter but, of course, I'm the optimistic cheerleader for happiness. Thanks for joining us on The Scope.

Announcer: Have a question about a medical procedure? Want to learn more about a health condition? With over 2,000 interviews with our physicians and specialists, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find what you want to know. Check it out at TheScopeRadio.com.

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