The Interconnectedness of Health and Happiness

May 31, 2022

Happiness can be elusive. It often gets confused with “success” or “pleasure.”

Sometimes, the harder you work to be happy, the more elusive happiness becomes. It’s tough to pin down because, for many, happiness depends on things outside their control. But there are certain things within your control that can make you happier — or at least remove some ‌obstacles to being happy.

Your health, for example, can either help or hinder your happiness.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re in physical pain. It’s hard to be happy when you’re fighting with your body. It’s hard to be happy when you have a chemical imbalance causing irritability.

Here, we offer some concrete actions you can take to improve your health and, thereby, your happiness — or at least remove some of its obstacles.

What Is Happiness?

On a biological level, there is a relationship between health and happiness.

Taking action to improve your health — and especially to boost the serotonin levels in your brain — can improve your physical, emotional, cognitive, and metabolic functions. In other words, it can make you feel better.

Of course, sometimes brain chemistry can get out of balance to the point of causing behavior or mood disorders, such as depression. These are very real conditions, and I’m not attempting to address those here. If you’re experiencing this kind of persistent disconnection from happiness, talk with an experienced medical professional.

Now let’s move from the biological to the practical.

Simply put, happiness comes from being able to do what you want to do, be with the people you want to be with, and go where you want to go. That looks different for everyone, but when you boil it down, happiness is about being more in control of your life.

A lack of health can really wreck that control.

A person may have money in the bank, but if they don’t have health, they can’t use that money to do what they want to do. Despite their wealth, they have very little control. Health is a great equalizer that way.

How To Improve Health and Happiness

Taking care of your health is an important strategy for being happier now and in the future. Below are a few biological factors you can take control of to positively influence your health and happiness.

The Interconnectedness of Health and Happiness Infographic

Increase Movement and Exercise

Exercise and movement, such as walking, running, dancing, or lifting weights, can boost those serotonin levels, much like an antidepressant would.

Exercising first thing in the morning is a great way to start your day. Not only is it good for your body, it also gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your mood for the rest of the day.

Or, if you’ve had a stressful day, opt for a calming activity, like walking your dog or taking your kids around the park.

Manage Your Stress

Stress is horrible for the body. Unfortunately, every human being has stress. We can’t avoid it.

Fortunately, living a healthier, happier life isn’t about eliminating stress. It’s about limiting and managing it.

Holding on to stress raises the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause high blood pressure, weight gain, muscle weakness, and mood swings. If your body is stuck in the grip of stress, it’s impossible to be happy.

Instead, manage your stress by doing things that de-stress you. Different people de-stress in different ways. Maybe you de-stress with exercise, reading a book, cleaning your house, or watching TV. The important thing is to find what helps you manage your stress and do it.

Get More Quality Sleep

Good sleep is the foundation for everything. When you’re chronically tired, your brain doesn’t function as well. You don’t look for the joy in life. Tiredness saps creative energy and problem-solving skills. It leads to frustration and stress, and can cause a rise in cortisol.

To get better sleep, create a nighttime sleep ritual where you put away all electronics, wind down, and get in bed by a certain time every evening. Even on weekends, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Manage Your Weight

Excess weight can affect happiness, too. This has less to do with the image in the mirror and more to do with body composition.

When your body has a higher fat content, you’re more likely to be on the path of insulin resistance. This means you’re more likely to become pre-diabetic, and then diabetic. Diabetes is a terrible disease that leads to a lifetime of health complications, all of which negatively affect quality of life and overall happiness.

Keep Everything in Moderation

As in all things in life, remember moderation. Don’t obsess over chasing happiness. There is such a thing as too much exercise, too much stress reduction, too much sleep, and too much weight loss. In excessive amounts, these things can lead to injury, low productivity, hormone imbalances, eating disorders, and other negative outcomes.

Just work a little bit in each of these areas for yourself every day. Don’t become too focused on one thing. Remember, health and happiness are a journey, not a destination.

Quick Wins To Improve Happiness

Keep Things in Perspective

If you have a home to sleep in, clothes to keep you warm, and food to eat every day, all your basic needs are met. And that’s a lot to be thankful for.

It’s easy to get caught up in small things. But keep in mind that overall, in this part of the world, life is pretty good.

Change Your Mindset

Choose a mindset of happiness.

You can view the glass as either half full or half empty. Make the choice to view things in a more optimistic way. Give people the benefit of the doubt more often. Look for the good in the world. This will generally lead to more happiness in your life.

Commit To Health and Happiness

To improve your health and happiness, commit to taking control of the factors you can control. Exercise or increase your movement, manage your stress, get more quality sleep, manage your weight, and keep everything in moderation.

These habits will lead to more serotonin, greater health, and a happier life.

Dr. Jonathan Schmidt

Dr. Schmidt is a board-certified family medicine physician with undergraduate degrees in Microbiology and medicine from Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois. He completed his residency at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend, IN and has a passion for putting his patients first in his practice. In his free time, Dr. Schmidt enjoys spending time with his family and participating in outdoor activities such as water sports and woodworking.

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