1. Section Editor(s): Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN

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"Don't worry, be happy!" Remember that hit song written and recorded by Bobby McFerrin in 1988?1 Radio disk jockeys played it over and over again. People whistled the tune at work and on the street and when you were moody or out of sorts, someone was likely to whisper the phrase in your ear or sing the song "in your face." This 4-word "philosophy of life" originated with an Indian mystic and spiritual advisor, Meher Baba, popular in the sixties.2 It was his consistent message to his followers. It turns out that the Baba was on to something. There is compelling evidence that happiness is strongly correlated with physiological health, well-being, and longevity.

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Sociologists Diener and Chan3 recently reviewed the findings of many types of research studies on happiness and health in 2010. Their analysis highlights solid evidence on the benefits of happiness and its long-term effects on health. The most interesting findings from this work validate with specific data some of our most long-held health beliefs; that is, happy individuals are likely to live 14% longer than those who report being unhappy; in developed countries, happy individuals live between 7.5 and 10 years longer than the unhappy; in the noted Nuns' Study, happier nuns lived, on average, 7 years longer than nuns who reported themselves as unhappy and happier individuals are less likely to be involved in accidents and commit suicide. These findings as well as others on the effects of positive emotions on health are a holistic wake-up call!


Think about the environments in which you live and work. There are far too many individuals who are chronically unhappy. Some organizations make special efforts to increase the happiness index in their employees knowing that the results are likely to be fewer errors, higher productivity, and better care. In the final analysis, happiness or subjective well-being, as the researchers dub it, is a personal responsibility. Ask yourself, are you happy most of the time? Do you like what you do and with whom you live and work? Barring very negative life events that we all experience from time to time, would you describe yourself as a "happy person?" If the answer is "no," read Diener and Chan's work and apply it to yourself. Avoid chronically unhappy people who carp and gossip but who never speak up or act to change what is perceived as a negative situation. Force yourself to smile more. The physiological act of smiling can trigger positive emotions not only in you but also in others. Become a student of "happiness" and positive emotions but before you begin your search of the literature, put a link to Bobby McFerrin's YouTube performance on your desktop or your phone and click away when you need a reminder or a boost-"Don't worry, be happy!"


-Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN






1. McFerrin B. "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" YouTube. Accessed October 16, 2011. [Context Link]


2. Meher Baba's Information. Accessed October 16, 2011. [Context Link]


3. Diener E, Chan MY. Happy people live longer: subjective well-being contributes to health and longevity. Applied psychology: health and well-being. Ed Diener's Web site. = 1701957. Accessed October 16, 2011. [Context Link]