In a new study just published in the European Heart Journal researchers have looked at the impact of a “positive affect” on the chances of getting heart disease. What’s “positive affect”?
Positive affect is defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. These feelings can be transient, but they are usually stable and trait-like, particularly in adulthood. Positive affect is largely independent of negative affect, so that someone who is generally a happy, contented person can also be occasionally anxious, angry or depressed.
Here’s what they found
After taking account of age, sex, cardiovascular risk factors and negative emotions, the researchers found that, over the ten-year period, increased positive affect predicted less risk of heart disease by 22% per point on a five-point scale measuring levels of positive affect expression (ranging from “none” to “extreme”).
As always, the researchers strongly plead for more research, both to clarify if their findings are revealing something true, and to begin to develop methods for helping people to develop a more positive affect. Is it possible to increase your positive affect? Well, think about what makes you happy, excited, brings you joy. Think about how you experience moments of contentment. What are you enthusiastic about? How could you spend more time than you currently do following your passion?
I wonder how this study connects to the well proven benefits of TM in reducing heart disease?
I practice TM 20 minutes twice daily. That’s 40 minutes of contentment. I often think of myself as a “peripatetic enthuser” – I am passionate about life. The daily world excites me, fills me with wonder and amazement. I laugh a lot. Will this way of living reduce my chances of heart disease? I don’t know. Maybe it will, if this research is correct. But I don’t live this way to try and avoid diseases. I don’t live this way to try to avoid dying. I live this way because this is how I want to live.
Here’s my personal view on avoiding heart disease. I hope I’ll never get it, but whether I do or not, I’d rather live enthusiastically, passionately and joyfully. If this way of living reduces my chances of heart disease, that’s a bonus.
But what does this mean for health care? Our current focus on reducing premature deaths from heart disease, has got two strands – “lifestyle” changes eg not smoking, eating less and exercising more, and taking drugs – statins, or even, as some advocate, a whole mix of drugs in one pill. That whole thrust seems to be towards death avoidance, and it’s not a strategy I personally prefer. I’ve a real penchant for focusing on, and building up, the positive.
A life well lived today, is a life well lived, irrespective of how long that life turns out to be.