Happiness and Heart Attacks

Happiness and Heart Attacks

I turn 43 this year, and have caught myself studying the lines on my face in the mirror more than I’d like to admit. It seems that time in front of the mirror is part of the aging process as we watch for the inevitable changes to our skin, hair, and body.

Years ago when I worked as a caregiver, I remember vividly that the first moment upon looking into the face of a new client would often tell me whether they were generally an optimistic or pessimistic person. One day I was sent to meet a potential client, and when I opened the door I was blown away by the woman greeting me. She looked to be in her mid-80’s with the usual signs that signify age, but her facial lines were different than any I had ever seen. It was as if her face defied gravity, for her wrinkles arched upwards instead of downwards. When she smiled her whole face lit up, and I guessed that this woman had done an enormous amount of smiling in her life. She led me into her home and we began to talk. While we spoke, not only was she constantly smiling, but she also had an extremely positive outlook on life. She spoke as if her life was the greatest gift in the world, even with the physical challenges she suffered from. I remember her telling me some details about her life, and how after a heartbreak she had made a choice to be in love with her life, no matter what circumstances she faced. What stood out to me is that she said she made a choice. She chose to be happy. Making this choice in our lives may do more than just make us happy.

A study in the European Heart Journal investigated 1,700 people in Nova Scotia, Canada to determine the chances of getting heart attacks in the next decade based on the optimistic outlook of the participant. The results showed that the participants with the positive outlooks at the beginning of the study, when the average age was about 46 years old, were less likely to have a heart attack. The lead researcher Dr. Karina W. Davidson, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University explained that positivity scores “were determined through careful clinical evaluations. Researchers videotaped interviews and later coded them for the degree of outwardly displayed positive attitude on a five-point scale. Later the subjects’ health outcomes were compared with their initial evaluations. The scientists found that for every point increase in positivity on the scale, risk for cardiac incidents decreased by more than 20 percent.” (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2010/02/come_on_get_happy_it_may_prote.html)

Now of course, no one can be happy all the time, because we are humans with an array of emotions. But if we can practice being aware of our feelings, which means acknowledging the uncomfortable ones as much as the joyful ones, then we won’t be stuffing or ignoring parts of ourselves. To me this can help with those moments we find ourselves in front of the mirror. If we accept the aging process, focus on our blessings, be grateful for what we have, and smile a little bit more… we might not only avoid a heart attack, but we’ll enjoy each day like the precious gift that it is.

Popovich, Nadja (2010, February 19). Come On, Get Happy. If May Help Your Heart. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2010/02/come_on_get_happy_it_may_prote.html.

Heather Berry

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