Yellow: The Colour of Happiness

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Yellow: The Colour of Happiness

Welcome to the third post in our Colours Campaign, a series about harnessing the transformative power of colour. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on YELLOW, easily the happiest hue in the rainbow.

Yellow is bright and bold. It’s energizing and hopeful. It’s also cheerful and warm, like sunshine on a spring day. We can’t help but feel our moods lift – at least a little – when we encounter a sunbeam or a burst of yellow daffodils. That’s why yellow is the perfect colour to introduce an article about cultivating happiness.

Happiness and your health

Why focus on becoming happier? Happiness feels good, but that’s not all. It turns out that happiness is good for you, too. Science has found a strong connection between positive emotions and personal well-being. Here are some of the benefits we know about:

  • Happiness is a stress antidote. Happiness is associated with lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone that can have negative health effects (such as sleep problems and weight gain) if elevated for a prolonged period. One study, published in 2005, analyzed cortisol levels in participants’ saliva. It found that the happiest participants had nearly a third less cortisol in their saliva than the least happy ones.
  • Happiness boosts your immune system. Having a sense of well-being may help guard against illness. A study at Carnegie Mellon University in 2006 found that people with a “positive emotional style” (happy, lively and calm) were less likely to develop a cold or the flu when exposed to these viruses, compared to people with a “negative emotional style” (anxious, hostile and depressed). In 2005, University of Pittsburgh researchers measured the immune response of 81 students who received a hepatitis B vaccine, and they found that the happier individuals produced more antibodies.
  • Happiness helps your heart. Several studies have linked happiness with a lower risk of heart disease. For example, a study published in 2010 that examined 10 years of health data for over 1,700 adults found that those with higher levels of “positive affect” – a term for experiencing positive emotions – had a lower risk of heart disease.
  • Happiness may extend your life. We don’t yet know how happiness and life span are connected, but a few long-term studies provide reason to feel optimistic. In 2010, researchers analyzed nearly three decades’ worth of health data for 7,000 people in Alameda County, California. Those with greater well-being, including life satisfaction, at the beginning were less likely to have died during the study. And, in another well-known study, researchers found that among a group of 180 Catholic nuns, those who were happiest in young adulthood (as evidenced by autobiographies written in their early 20s) tended to live longer – by as much as 7 to 10 years – than their least happy sisters. Several other studies have found a link between happiness and a lower risk of mortality.

The science of happiness

How can we cultivate happiness in our own lives? For inspiration, we look to positive psychology – often known as the science of happiness. It’s a range of techniques that help people to develop positive emotions and build personal strengths, and to enrich their lives with purpose and satisfaction.

Positive psychology doesn’t replace psychotherapy or counselling, but it can help promote a sense of well-being. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, once described positive psychology’s approach as “build what’s strong,” a complement to psychotherapy’s approach of “fix what’s wrong.” You can try positive psychology techniques in your daily life. Here are some good habits to build:

  • Engage in acts of kindness. When we’re kind, our actions don’t just benefit the recipients – they’re good for us, too. People who care for others or volunteer regularly have greater life satisfaction. Kindness has also been linked to self-esteem, empathy and better moods, as well as decreased stress and lower blood pressure. In everyday life, look for ways to extend kindness to others.
  • Live an active lifestyle. There is a strong connection between our minds and bodies. We can positively influence our emotions by exercising regularly and practising other healthy habits, such as eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep. Regular exercise is also a key part of preventing illness and aging well, so get moving!
  • Get in the flow. Have you ever been so absorbed in a project or hobby that you lost track of time? That’s the experience of flow, or being “in the zone.” When we’re in this state, we feel creative, in control and unself-conscious. The activity feels both effortless and rewarding. To find your flow, choose an activity that’s both enjoyable and challenging. Remove distractions so you can better focus.
  • Connect with others. Personal relationships are vital for health and happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a long-running project started in 1938, examines what factors support health and well-being. In a 2015 TED Talk, study director Robert Waldinger said, “Our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community.” Reach out often to people you care about, especially during challenging times.

Additional resources

Online courses

The Science of Well-Being

Over four weeks, this free Yale University course engages participants in challenges designed to boost their happiness and help them build productive habits.

The Science of Happiness

This free, eight-week course from Berkeley University’s Greater Good Science Center discusses positive psychology, what happiness means and which mental habits are most helpful.

Podcast

The Science of Happiness

Also from the Greater Good Science Center, this podcast explores aspects of creating a happier life, including relationships, emotions, kindness, gratitude, self-esteem and purpose.

Apps

Happify

Using evidence-based activities and games, this app helps users improve their mental well-being, overcome negative thoughts and form positive habits. The app is free to try. To unlock Happify’s full features, you’ll need a paid subscription.

SuperBetter

This science-based app helps users build resilience, achieve goals and tackle personal challenges using the mindset and psychological strengths of game play. The original version is free.

 

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