Happy Ways

By Cindy Cafferty

December 5, 2008 5 min read


Love and happiness are unlikely aids to a healthier life

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

All you need is love.

From the age-old wisdom of the Bible to the new-age advice scattered throughout the ubiquitous self-help and spiritual books, the underlying theme is love. But who knew that that the catchphrase coined by the Beatles could hold the key to happiness and open the door to a healthier life?

Although there are few long-term studies directly relating happiness or love to longevity and overall health, there has been research indicating that a happier life leads to a healthier life.

According to a 2005 study of British civil servants in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- and cited on the popular health website, WebMD -- the happier the participants were, the lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone directly linked to heart disease, a number one killer in America.

The study monitored the blood pressure and heart rate of 216 healthy government employees in London both during the workday and the workweek. Measurements of blood fibrinogen and salvia cortisol, the stress hormone linked to diabetes and heart disease were taken after a stress test, at which point researchers questioned the happiness level of the participants. The higher the happiness level was, the better the test results. The study also indicated that the participants with a higher happiness level generally tended to stay happy and have lower stress during both work and leisure activities.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services links stress to negative effects on the body, and warns that both short term and long-term stress can have significant impact on your health.

But how do you start getting happy?

Gretchen Rubin, noted author and creator of "The Happiness Project," which is also the title of her upcoming book due out December 2009, addressed the complex issues of the simple concept.

"First off, part of happiness is genetically determined. Each of us has a different and individual range," Rubin said. "We can be at the top of our range or the bottom, and we can make decisions that pull us up or pull down."

According to Rubin, concrete ways to add happiness and pull you to the top of your range are getting more sleep, engaging in social relationships and doing things that will draw you closer to others and put yourself in an atmosphere of growth -- whether it's cleaning the closet or learning a language, the idea develops that things are changing for the better.

A method Rubin uses to help gage her happiness is what she describes as "Gretchen's Twelve Commandments." Much like the Ten Commandments of the Bible, they are the rules she lives by, and each night she charts her progress on a resolution chart.

"My commandments may be different from yours," she said. "But [mine] include: Being Gretchen, no calculation and there is only love.

"Being Gretchen is really just my way of saying being me, or being authentic. No calculation is from St. Therese of Lisieux, 'When one loves, one does not calculate.' And there is only love refers to having only love in your heart, which is very hard to do."

Unlike the Ten Commandments, Gretchen's rules are not predicated on any one religious belief or practice. Rather they are tools she uses to find happiness and live at the top of her range.

But how does one find authenticity and how does one fill their hearts with love?

"Look at the things you are inclined to do," Rubin said. "Part of knowing who you are is knowing what you like. What drives you? What do you think about on the weekends? What do you do in your spare time? You may not be able to make these things your job, but you can use them to figure out who you are and find ways to incorporate them into your life."

There are several ways to reach this stage. "First, and this can be hard: Quit keeping score -- this is the no calculation part," she said. "What you did for me or how much you did for me and vice versa shouldn't be what I base my actions on. Second, if you can force yourself to act in a loving way, you will feel more love. Act the way you want to feel."

And after all, all you need is love.

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