FARGO, N.D. — Have you ever thought about what makes people, including you, happy? What role does happiness play in our overall health?
The other night, I was at a meeting at a women’s group called P.E.O. Chapter V, which is a philanthropic educational organization. We work to expand educational opportunities for women.
We also teach each other things. As a bonus, we have tasty snacks at the end of the meetings. Our recent topic, happiness, was led by a psychiatrist member of the group.
The happiness topic peaked my interest. After all, who doesn’t want to be at least reasonably happy most of the time? Doesn’t the U.S. Declaration of Independence grant “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as three unalienable rights?
Does being healthy make us happy? Do happy people live longer?
A 2015 study examined the role of happiness related to the length of life among 700,000 women during the course of a decade in the United Kingdom. The women reported their happiness levels and their health concerns.
The researchers reported that being unhappy made the women less likely to take care of themselves, which wasn’t too surprising. However, being happy didn’t necessarily make them live longer. In other words, poor health came first and led to the people becoming unhappy.
This was intriguing. I was relaxing and listening during our meeting because relaxing makes me happy. I wasn’t taking notes, so I looked up some information to be sure I heard everything correctly. I believe I found one of the reports our speaker was citing.
I found the “World Happiness Report” released by Columbia University. I will share a few snippets I gleaned from the comprehensive report, with a few questions for you to ponder along the way.
How do you think gender, education level and age affect happiness, based on this global research? Women tend to be happier than men, and degree of education was not necessarily associated with happiness.
Our age also impacts our happiness, but maybe not the way you might expect. According to published research, happiness follows a varied path during our lifetime. It reaches a minimum in middle age (40 to 50), then it rises again.
Getting older sounds better all the time, right?
What about marriage and children? Do they help or hinder happiness? Stable marriages are associated with life satisfaction. Unfortunately, children are not necessarily linked to higher levels of happiness. (Sorry, kids!)
While most of us try to manage our stress, keep in mind that having no stress doesn’t necessarily make us happy, either. Turns out, you need a little “good” stress.
If you are a couch potato, you might want to know that watching large amounts of TV is not necessarily a good plan for greater happiness. Researchers found that TV viewing reduced socializing and could decrease happiness.
Watching TV usually means you are being sedentary, and we know that exercise can improve our mental state and our physical health.
How does money affect happiness? Even though we may fantasize about winning the lottery, becoming instantly rich might not necessarily make us happier in the long run. We need enough money, but past a certain point, we have enough “stuff.”
Religiosity also affects our degree of happiness. In countries where life is challenging, a worldwide Gallup poll showed that those who were more religious had more positive emotions. In countries where life was easier, the effect of religion was less well-pronounced. Overall, having a religious “family” provided more support, and fostered feelings of being respected and having a purpose in life.
Doing things for others (altruism) was linked with greater happiness. When you volunteer at a food pantry or other community venue, you are helping others, but you also are helping yourself in the process.
That’s some food for thought, but keep in mind we all are different. We have many options to improve our physical and mental health. Here are a few thoughts our P.E.O. speaker shared as she closed her presentation:
- Surround yourself, face to face, with happy, generous people.
- Pay attention to the good things and simple pleasures all through the day.
- Help people.
- Develop sacred rituals to do in solitude and with others.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. (Yes, she said this. I didn’t make it up!)
- Make exercise a priority. Take a walk in nature.
- Turn off the electronics for part of your week.
- Sleep enough.
- Enjoy your senses, such as listening to music.
- Set goals and plan for the best with hope and optimism.
- Remember: The glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s refillable.
I’m on the schedule to bring the tasty snack for our next meeting, and here’s the recipe. I hope they, and you, like it.
1 (16 1/2-ounce) refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 kiwi fruit, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 c. strawberries, diced
1 c. blueberries
Heat oven to 350 F. Spray 12-inch pizza pan with cooking spray (or use a rectangular pan). In pan, break up cookie dough; press dough evenly in bottom of pan to form crust. Bake 16 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. In small bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Spread mixture over cooled crust. Arrange fruit over cream cheese. Refrigerate until chilled, at least one hour. To serve, cut into wedges or squares. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pizza.
Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 15 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 170 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)
— Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service
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