Happiness As Prevention

We increase our immunity to colds and flues when we are happy. Find out how;

Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon found that people who are happy, lively, calm or exhibit other positive emotions are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report few of these emotions.

When they do come down with a cold, happy people report fewer symptoms than would be expected from objective measures of their illness. In contrast, reporting more negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger was not associated with catching colds.

That study, however, left open the possibility that the greater resistance to infectious illness among happier people may not have been due to happiness, but rather to other characteristics that are often associated with reporting positive emotions such as optimism, extraversion, feelings of purpose in life and self-esteem.

Cohen’s recent study controls for those variables, with the same result: The people who report positive emotions are indeed less likely to catch colds and also less likely to report symptoms when they do get sick, notwithstanding their levels of optimism, extraversion, purpose and self-esteem, and of their age, race, gender, education, body mass or pre-study immunity to the virus.

“We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional style is a major player in disease risk,” said Cohen.
The researchers interviewed volunteers over several weeks to assess their moods and emotional styles, and then infected them with either a rhinovirus or an influenza virus. The volunteers were quarantined and examined to see if they came down with a cold. This was the same method Cohen applied in his previous study, but with the addition of the influenza virus.

The study will be published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine and is available online at www.psychosomaticmedicine.org