It’s February and at this point, many of you are probably growing a little tired of talking about diet, exercise, and how you’re not keeping your New Year’s resolutions. Am I right?

No worries, this time we’re going to discuss a different way to get healthy—by being happy. Specifically, how happiness affects the health of your heart. (It’s February, after all.)

Be kind.

We’re human. We all get angry. But did you know that when you become angry, you acutely increase your risk of heart attack by 200-300%? A large study looked at multiple cardiac risk factors; after taking anger into account, no other factor made an immediate difference. The effect of anger also persisted for about one hour after the initial blow up.

How many of you are on social media? Psychological Science magazine recently published a study done by the University of Pennsylvania. The study tracked negative emotions on Twitter, and overlaid that pattern with a death rate map from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). What they found was that the more negative tweets that came from a certain country, the higher the death rate. So being unkind—even via the Internet—can come back to hurt you.

Be thankful.

Dr. Paul Mills at the University of California, San Diego, recently showed that a spirit of thankfulness is good for your health. Grateful people were shown to have less depression, less anxiety, and better sleep. More surprisingly, however, is that they also found out that thankful people also had lower levels of inflammatory markers and better overall heart health!

To make this practical to you, instead of feeling burdened by the thought of “I have to do this,” think “thank God that I can still do this!” Researchers have also recommended keeping a gratitude journal, where you can write down the things that you’re thankful for.

Forgive.

We’re all sinners. We’ve all been hurt, but we’ve also hurt others, so forgiveness applies to everyone.

Researchers from Florida State University demonstrated that people who actively forgave others had lower heart rates, lower blood pressures, and better heart function.

Another study directly compared bitter women to those who were forgiving. They found opposite effects in their sympathetic tone, heart rate, blood pressure, and arterial stiffness. Those who forgave also had much better cardiovascular numbers than their angry counterparts.

So, we all just need to…let it go (cue Frozen soundtrack).

Why is this important?

While these ideas may seem easier than uprooting your diet or starting a vigorous new exercise regimen, they’re actually more difficult. Kindness, thankfulness, and a spirit of forgiveness all represent a change in your habits, a change in your thought process, and essentially, a change of heart.

Luckily, we serve the ultimate heart surgeon. Claim His promise to you:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26


About the Author

Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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