Day 24 of 31-Day Series “Your Last Health Resolution”
Richard Davidson’s colleagues call him the “king of happiness research.” The professor or psychology at the University of Wisconsin has dedicated decades to trying to understand the essence of bliss and the effects on the body.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he shared a study performed on a Buddhist monk. As the monk sank into a deep meditative state, electrical activity in the left prefrontal lobe skyrocketed. That was the beginning of his discoveries connecting happiness to an actual physical state of the brain. The experience of joy isn’t some vague feeling but a state one can deliberately induce. And, as it turns out, it also has a powerful effect on the body.
People who test high in happiness on psychological evaluations produce about 50% more antibodies than average in response to flu vaccines. According to Davidson, that’s a very significant amount. Other studies have linked contentment, optimism, and hopefulness to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, pulmonary disease, upper-respiratory infections, and colds. And a Dutch study showed those mental states reduced the risk of death by 50% for elderly patients over the nine years of observation.
As you might expect, some people are born with a greater disposition toward happiness. That definitely gives them a leg up. But can those of us not born that way rewire our brains? And if so, how does it happen?
I’ll leave you in suspense with those questions. (You can meditate on them.) We’ll uncover the answer tomorrow.