Trying to tie together several concepts that have been on my mind lately—happiness as a better measurement of success than strictly material measures, ways to curb the obesity epidemic, and how doing both can protect the environment—I came across an interesting article over at BBC News from 2005. It references a study suggesting that promoting happiness is indeed a viable solution to tackling these issues.
The study was done by a team from University College London and found that when people are happier they handle stress better than people that are generally less happy. This in turn reduces the production of a chemical that increases the risk of heart disease. They also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which, as countless diet pill ads now tell you is related to abdominal obesity, diabetes and more.
Professor Andrew Steptoe, who led the study, said: "It has been suspected for the last few years that happier people may be healthier both mentally and physically than less happy people.
He added: "What we find particularly interesting is that the associations between happiness and biological responses were independent of psychological distress.
Just sketching it out: 1) We've got happier people being healthier physically and mentally, with less stress hormones linked to obesity and other health problems; 2) We've got more recent studies showing that spending more time outside increases a person's vital energy and reduces depression; 3) We've got more studies showing that happiness is something not bought at the store—with our current 'cult of consumerism' linked to many of our environmental problems—all of which is supported by hundreds of years of yogic tradition saying that lasting happiness is something independent of external stimuli; 4) We've got plenty of research showing that using alternative measures of national progress such as the Genuine Progress Indicator or concepts such as Gross National Happiness more accurately reflect the state of a society.
As rough as that may be, it does provide a pretty compelling picture of where we'd best put our efforts to help construct a more ecologically and socially sustainable society than the one we currently have.