A positive mindset may be more important for staying healthy than previously realized. A new study confirms that psychological well-being can have a very real impact on physical health.
The research was focused on psychological interventions that were specifically designed to boost emotional well-being. The study revealed that both in-person and online interventions positively impacted the physical health of the participants.
Study co-author Kostadin Kushlev is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University.
“Though prior studies have shown that happier people tend to have better cardiovascular health and immune-system responses than their less happy counterparts, our research is one of the first randomized controlled trials to suggest that increasing the psychological well-being even of generally healthy adults can have benefits to their physical health,” said Professor Kushlev.
In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Virginia and the University of British Columbia, Professor Kushlev examined how a program called Enduring Happiness and Continued Self-Enhancement (ENHANCE) may improve physical health among people who were not hospitalized or undergoing medical treatment.
A total of 155 adults between the ages of 25 and 75 were randomly assigned either to a wait-list control condition or a 12-week positive psychological intervention that addressed three different sources of happiness.
The first 3 weeks of the program focused on the “Core Self,” helping individuals identify their personal values, strengths, and goals. The next 5 weeks focused on the “Experiential Self,” which trained the participants in emotion regulation and mindfulness. The final 4 weeks of the program addressed the “Social Self,” teaching techniques to cultivate gratitude, positive social interactions, and community engagement.
Upon completion of the program, the participants were given individual evaluations and recommendations for improving their happiness in the long term. Three months after the conclusion of the trial, the researchers followed up with the volunteers to evaluate their well-being and health.
The participants who received the intervention reported increasing levels of subjective well-being. They also reported fewer sick days throughout the program and during the months that followed.
“These results speak to the potential of such interventions to be scaled in ways that reach more people in environments such as college campuses to help increase happiness and promote better mental health among students,” said Professor Kushlev.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.