They say money can’t buy happiness, and new scientific evidence supports that saying.
For a study published in The Lancet, researchers from Yale and Oxford collected data from 1.2 million Americans from 2011, 2013 and 2015 to see how exercise impacted a person’s overall mental well-being. And there’s good news in store for all of the active folks out there.
The study asked participants, who were 18 years or older, to say how many “bad days” they’d had due to emotional health. They then compared the answers to participants of a similar age, sex and socioeconomic status.
The researchers found that those who exercise had 43.2 percent fewer days of poor mental health, and any type of exercise was associated with a lower mental health burden. So, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing to fit more exercise into your routine, so long as you get moving.
However, while the study’s authors reported that “physical exercise was significantly and meaningfully associated with self-reported mental health burden,” they also noted that it can’t solve everything. Education and income still played a factor in overall mental health, and more exercise wasn’t always a solution.
Money can indeed aid in terms of overall happiness, but, according to an article published by the University of Nebraska’s department of psychology, once basic needs are met, even money can become a burden.
Money can buy you better health care, a home in a safe neighborhood and more leisure time, the article says. But, “Once our income reaches a certain level and our basic needs for food, health care, safety, and shelter are met, the positive effects of money — such as buying your dream home — are often offset by the negative effects — such as working longer hours, or in more stressful jobs, to maintain that income.”
Regardless of how much you exercise or how much money you make, Ronald D. Siegel, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, points out that genetics are involved in your happiness level, too.
“There’s good news and bad news about our ability to change our sense of well-being or happiness,” Siegel told Harvard Health Publishing. “It turns out that, just like for weight, we have genetically determined happiness set-points. So if we’re not taking steps to improve our sense of well-being, we tend to gravitate back to the same level.” However, you can offset those predetermined “happiness set-points” by working towards more happiness and better overall mental health, he said.
He offered some suggestions for doing just that, including living in the moment, practicing gratitude, doing things for others, playing to your strengths and appreciating pleasure.
Based on the recent findings from Yale and Oxford, incorporating more exercise into your routine seems like a good idea, too.
To get started on meeting your fitness goals, Dr. Edward Phillips, the founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says to start small.
“Find something that’s a 2 percent change, like walking ten minutes a day,” he told Harvard Health Publishing. “Go for a walk at lunch, walk while you’re talking on the phone. What’s the smallest change you can make and be confident you can do it? I’ve met very few patients who can’t do that.”
So, set a small goal, meet it and go from there. As Dr. Phillips says, “improved behavior begets improved behavior.”
Here’s to feeling happier and healthier!