Why are happiness and wellbeing so important?

We have intuited the importance of wellbeing for thousands of years.

Aristotle said wellbeing involved achieving moral and intellectual virtues such as courage, wisdom and understanding through science. Confucius believed we obtain fulfilment and joy through belonging to greater concerns, and by developing intimate connections with nature and the larger human family.

The American Declaration of Independence states that all people have a right to “the pursuit of happiness.”

Although the importance of wellbeing has been long recognized, we are just now beginning to use science to more fully understand how to improve wellbeing and the wide range of benefits that result from it.

Scientists are conducting an increasing number of studies and gathering a growing body of evidence.

The fields of expertise range from psychology, medicine and neuroscience, through to sociology and economics. Read more about their discoveries in the topics below.

Better wellbeing, beyond doubt, creates benefits

What are the benefits of Wellbeing?

Recent studies have found an association between better wellbeing and good outcomes. These studies focused on large groups of people.

A 2012 study of more than 11,000 men and women over 50 in England, for example, found that the top 25% of people who self-reported enjoyment in life were 28.7% less likely to die young. In other words, the study found enjoyment in life is associated with living longer.

But the obvious question raised is: 'Do people aged over 50 who live longer simply report more enjoyment in life because they haven't died yet?'

Scientists, however, are discovering that better wellbeing actually directly causes benefits. These studies actively aim to achieve better wellbeing and see if it leads to positive results. Their focus has been on the brain and people's lives.

MAP is a unique scientifically validated happiness assessment tool for achieving better wellbeing, which has been validated in research studies. See How MAP works

Simply put, happier individuals are more likely to live longer

The brain

The brain is the main focus of how better wellbeing is achieved inside the human body. This field is called neuroscience. Neuroscientists have found that better wellbeing affects how the brain functions and can lead to changes to its structure.

The brain, of course, also interacts and influences the rest of the body such as the systems for endocrine glands (hormones), cardiovascular health (heart and blood vessels) and immunity (fighting infection).

Function

Natural brain chemicals like dopamine and other neurotransmitters increase when you have better wellbeing. Dopamine embeds a positive feedback loop, so when you respond to something positive in your life, this makes you better able to seek and receive something else positive at a later time.

A positive mood also leads to increased activity in the brain center associated with increased curiosity and creativity.

Structure

Mindfulness training (a type of meditation linked to improved wellbeing in psychological studies) increases nerve tissue in parts of the brain that are believed to regulate our thought processes and emotion.

Health and living longer

Better wellbeing has a strong association with the physical body systems underlying health, disease, resilience and living longer. It can also help improve our lifestyle behaviors.

Key findings from the research include:

Unemployed people who are happier are more likely to get a job within a year

Personal and social benefits

Better wellbeing can also improve our ability to integrate information and broaden our focus of attention. This can improve our behavior and decision-making and lead to positive personal and social outcomes.

Some standout discoveries:

Work and workplace benefits

Happiness can benefit the work and the workplace in many ways.

Mental benefits include feeling more motivated and an improved ability to integrate information. Social wellbeing benefits include better relationships and cooperation.

Key findings from the research:

References

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Bartles M. Genetics of Wellbeing and Its Components Satisfaction with Life, Happiness, and Quality of Life: A Review and Meta-analysis of Heritability Studies. Behav Genet, 2015;45:137 156

Bloomer E. Workplace interventions to improve health and wellbeing. Institute of Healthy Equity, Public Health England. link

Buunk, B. P., Doosje, B. J., Jans, L. G. J. M., & Hopstaken, L. E. M. (1993). Perceived reciprocity, social support, and stress at work: The role of exchange and communal orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 801-811.

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