1. Happiness is good for the heart

    A good friend of mine used to complain all the time about his stress and frustration at work. Every time I saw him, he'd tell me how much "worse" it was -- yet he never did a thing to make his situation better.

    Then, one day, things really did take a turn for the worse: He suffered a heart attack.

    He was only in his mid 40s.

    Luckily, it was a mild heart attack, so it was more of a wake-up call than anything else. But if you let too much stress and negativity get hold of you, you might not get off as easily as my friend did.

    Attitude and good stress control are almost as important to heart health as diet and exercise -- and a Harvard analysis of more than 200 studies confirms that an optimistic outlook can cut your risk of a first heart attack in half.

    One of the studies even found that happiness can cut your risk of a stroke by 26 percent. And in another, which looked at 300 bypass patients, optimism reduced the risk of a return trip to the hospital or surgery complications by 50 percent over six months.

    Naturally, optimistic people were more likely to lead healthier lives in the first place. They ate better, got more exercise, and were even more likely to get the right amount of sleep.

    All of these things on their own will lower your risk of heart problems, of course, but the Harvard team wrote in Psychological Bulletin that the benefits of a positive attitude held even after adjusting for all that.

    It's not hard to see why, since there's a clear link between the body and the mind.

    As my friend found out the hard way, stress can help bring on a heart attack. So it only makes sense that the opposite of stress -- real happiness and positive energy -- can have the opposite effect.

    And sure enough, the researchers say the benefits didn't go to people who simply weren't unhappy. They went specifically to people who were happy, satisfied, optimistic, and always hopeful for a positive outcome.

    So if you're making changes to make yourself healthy, don't forget to make some of the less obvious changes. Along with a better diet and better habits, give yourself a better attitude, too.

  2. Happy people live longer

    It's the attitude adjustment that could save your life: A new study finds that happy people live longer -- which means a smile might turn out to be the cheapest, safest, and easiest longevity-booster on the planet.

    Can you think of any drug or supplement that can slash your risk of a premature death by 35 percent? I can't -- but the study of 3,800 people between the ages of 52 and 79 found that happiness did just that, even after adjusting for age, gender, depression and other health and lifestyle risks.

    All told, just 3.6 percent of the happiest people died during the five-year study -- versus 4.6 percent of those who had average levels of happiness and 7.3 percent of those who were unhappy.

    The volunteers also answered questions about fear, anxiety and worry -- but none of those other attitudes seemed to have any effect on who lived and who died.

    Just happiness -- although it could also be that the very things that make us happy also help us to live longer.

    Married people, for example, live longer... and people who've been married a long time tend to be happier than those who are alone (even if we might joke otherwise).

    Happier people also have a tighter circle of friends -- something that's also known to boost both longevity and happiness.

    On the other hand, attitude alone really can have a direct and measurable impact on health, like a study a couple of years back that found happy people have a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease.

    Another study I told you about over the summer found that an attitude closely linked to happiness -- optimism -- slashed the risk of a stroke.

    And last year, researchers found that the most disagreeable people were more likely to have thicker carotid arteries -- which would explain that increase in stroke risk, not to mention the thick bulging neck veins seen on angry cartoon characters.

    I know changing your attitude is easier said than done -- especially if you have years of experience in the grouch department. But while it's difficult, it's not impossible -- and if you can pull it off, it might just save your life.

  3. Always look on the bright side of life

    Your outlook could play a direct role in your stroke risk, with the most negative people facing the most negative outcomes.

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