I’m lightheartedly gliding along a beach-side path on a gold rental bike with silver arched handlebars. Suddenly I hear someone screaming “Aaaaahhhrrrr!” It sounds like an angry pirate is heading toward me.
I quickly realize I’ve crossed over into the wrong lane by mistake as I made space for a friend riding next to me. A guy dressed for some serious biking was 20 feet in front of me, his face twisted with rage. I immediately got back into my lane and he passed by.
“Do you think he’s riding for his health?” asked my friend, tongue in cheek.
“If he is, it may not be working, unfortunately,” I said.
Of course I had made a mistake being in the wrong lane. But this guy’s response didn’t seem very helpful for him, especially if he really was riding to benefit his health.
Researchers report that anxiety and anger aren’t fruitful for well-being and, on the contrary, happiness is good for us. A 2011 review of 160 studies published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being found “clear and compelling evidence” that happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than unhappy peers.
Similarly, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Carol Graham, notes that a number of studies find that happier people are healthier. “For example,” she says, “a recent study in the OECD countries finds that hypertension prevalence and average country-level happiness rankings are negatively correlated…”
So how can we, as a society, benefit more from knowing about this link between good cheer and health? Some countries are focused on this at a policy level. Bhutan, for example, is a well-known innovator with its Gross National Happiness index. Australia, Canada, China, France and the United Kingdom are also reportedly working on measuring happiness.
In the US, the Gallup Organization started a Well-Being Index in 2008, in conjunction with Healthways, Inc. Their approach is based on the World Health Organization’s definition of health, which is “…not only the absence of infirmity and disease but also a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
These ideas address the ways in which society can benefit, but how can we as individuals profit from knowledge of this link?
I know I feel better when I’m in the middle of a big belly laugh than when I feel anxious. And I feel at peace if I’m focusing on the divine, or on any ideas that lift me from thinking about myself and my problems.
These experiences put things in perspective and help me see a grander view. My worries slip away. For instance, sometimes when I’m walking home from the subway I remember to look up at the sky and marvel at how the moon shines brightly and stars form Orion above me.
I’m learning that when I let fear or bitterness govern it tends to enslave me, whereas a consciousness of love and calmness provides freedom, regardless of what’s going on around me. It’s impossible to be loving and bitter at the same time.
Some Scriptural references on these ideas have helped me in this effort to love, by naturally leading me to a happier state of mind. In a letter the Apostle Paul sent to the early Christians of Philippi, which is in modern-day Greece, he said: “Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view.”
In humility I recognize I should put myself in that biker’s shoes and have compassion for him. I wish for his sake he’d been willing to do the same for me.
Regardless, what a feeling of contentment that compassion brings me. I know the more consistently we can do this, the better we will feel.