Happiness Good for Health
Study Shows Happy People Resist Colds, Flu Better Than Others
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 10, 2006 -- Happiness may do more than put a smile on your face; it
might also improve your health.
That's according to a study by Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and colleagues. Cohen is
the Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in
"We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional
style is a major player in disease risk," Cohen's team writes in
Of course, anyone can get sick. Happiness isn't a magic bullet that
guarantees health, and the researchers aren't blaming illness on negative
But the effect emotions have on health may be more complicated than
previously thought, the researchers note.
Cohen and colleagues studied 193 healthy adults aged 21-55 (average age:
Participants got medical checkups and completed surveys on their emotional
Positive emotional-style traits included being lively, happy, or calm.
Negative traits included being tense, anxious, sad, depressed, angry, or
Participants noted how often they had experienced those emotions in the
previous two weeks. The goal was to gauge their typical mood, not temporary ups
Based on the surveys, the researchers gave participants scores for both
positive and negative emotional style.
Positive emotional style scores were low for 64 people, medium for 64 other
participants, and high for 65 people.
Meanwhile, negative emotional style scores were low for 66 people, medium
for 62 people, and high for 65 people.
Cold, Flu Challenge
With the participants' consent, the researchers exposed them to viruses that
cause colds or flu. The participants were then
quarantined for five to six days to see who got a cold or flu.
People with high scores for positive emotional style were more likely to
resist colds and flu, the study shows. But people with high scores for
negativity weren't especially vulnerable.
In other words, being positive was a plus against colds and flu, but
negativity wasn't a hazard.
It's not clear why or how happiness guarded against the diseases.
Happy & Healthy?
The study only covered colds and flu. But the findings may have broader
"These results indicate that positive emotions play a larger and more
important role in disease risk and health complaints than previously
believed," the researchers write.
For instance, they note that depression is a mix of high negative emotions
(like sadness) and low positive emotions (like happiness).
Most research on depression and health has focused on high negative
emotions, not low positive emotions, the researchers write.