When Are You Happiest?

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). Happy individuals tend to have more responsive immune systems, less hormonal reactions to stress and are more likely to utilize health lifestyle practices that can make a difference in long term health and well-being (Nowack, K. M. (1989). Coping style, cognitive hardiness, & health status. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 145-158).

The Link Between 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 lower levels 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 important cardiovascular inflammation markers including C-reactive protein and interleukin-6.

Gathering key new information and using modern research methods to study 1,500 Californians across eight decades, health scientists Dr. Howard S. Friedman and Dr. Leslie R. Martin from UC Riverside found that those with the most optimism and cheerfulness die younger than their less positive counterparts. It was the conscientious people—careful, sometimes even neurotic, but not catastrophizing—who lived longer.

Part of the explanation lies in studying the health behaviors of the study subject — the cheerful, happy-go-lucky kids tended to take more risks with their health across the years (Friedman, H. & Martin, L. (2011). The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. Hudson Street Press). It turns out that overly-optimistic people tend to put themselves in harm’s way — they just don’t see risks as clearly as people who are prone to some level of caution/pessimism. So, it seems that it is important to be happy but maybe not too happy if you want to live longer.

These findings support the idea that happiness is protective.

When Are You Most Happiest?

A pair of researchers from Cornell University are the latest to mine social networks looking for trends. Scott Golder and Michael Macy analyzed 509 million Twitter messages posted over a period of two years by 2.4 million users across 84 different countries. From this data, they have gleaned that people have the same daily cycle of moods, regardless of their culture or language.

The results showed people tend to be happier in the morning and during weekends. The Twitter messages revealed that they wake up happy and slowly grow more dissatisfied as the day goes on. This behavior happens on both weekdays and weekends (the weekend tweets usually start approximately two hours later most likely because people are sleeping in.

Even in countries where the weekend is not Saturday and Sunday (e.g., United Arab Emirates), these patterns were still clear.

Out of that work came a website, www.timeu.se, that allows people to see how often a particular word is used at different times of the day and week.

This research suggests that happiness is an ultradian rhythm (shorter than 24 hours) much like body temperature, concentration, eye blinks) which is maximized in the morning hours….No word yet if you miss out all together if you are a “night owl”….Be well….

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