Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


We all know that negative moods are associated with poor physical health and psychological well-being (Nowack, K. (2008). Coaching for Stress: StressScan. Editor: Jonathan Passmore, Psychometrics in Coaching, Association for Coaching, UK, pp. 254-274). What about positive emotions and health?

In a study of 2,873 healthy British adults conducted by Dr. Andrew Steptoe, those who reported more positive emotions during the day had significantly lowerlevels of the stress hormone cortisol that is typically associated with increased blood pressure, immune suppression and obesity ((Steptoe, A. et al. (2007). Neuroendocrine and inflammatory factors associated with positive affect in healthy men and women: The Whitehall study II. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167, 96-102)).

Among women, but not men in this study, positive emotions were significantly lower as well as levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 which are considered indicators of widespread inflammation in the body and independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease. These gender differences weren’t really explained but the findings on the stress hormone cortisol have been well documented in both men and women.

These findings support the idea that happiness is protective. The more difficult question though remains:

Is Happier Always Better?

A relatively new study has tried to answer this question by analyzing data from 118,519 respondents of the World Values Study, an intense data collection project with college students entering 25 mostly elite Universities, and four longitudinal data sets exploring the link between self-reported happiness and various outcomes such as educational degrees obtained, income levels, relationship satisfaction and duration (Oishi, S. et al. ,2007). The optimum level of well-being: Can people be too happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2 (4) 346-360). These studies revealed a consistent pattern of results:

  • The optimal level of happiness in the domains of interpersonal relationships is the highest possible level of happiness
  • In contrast, the optimal level of happiness for achievement of outcomes (e.g., salary, income, education) is a moderate (but still high) level of happiness

The authors in this study stress that it is not bad to be very happy nor is it desirable to be unhappy.

They are suggesting that for those individuals whose primary values in work and life focus on achievement, only moderate levels of happiness may be optimal. For those whose values prioritize close relationships, it is the highest level of happiness possible given one’s genetic set point, situation and daily activities that are desirable. The benefit of happy moods are also likely influenced by ones’ personality and work/life values and likely to differ across cultures.

Our own research with our stress and resilience tool called StressScan has revealed some interesting results when we analyze the items composing our own Psychological Well-Being/Happiness scale with a sample of 1,350 working professionals in diverse industries:

Percent Answering “Often” or “Always”

70.7% — Genuinely enjoying the things you are involved in

66.3% — Feeling that your future looks hopeful and promising

68.5% — Pleased with life overall

In general, most Americans report positive life satisfaction but also tend to report a high level of work and life stress((Nowack, K. (2006). Optimising Employee Resilience: Coaching to Help Individuals Modify Lifestyle. Stress News, International Journal of Stress Management, Volume 18, 9-12)). I guess whether you are male or female, it’s still tough to have it all…..Be well….

[tags]Envisia Learning, moods, cortisol, stress, happiness, inflammation, C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, stress, coping, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]