Pursue Pleasure to Improve Health

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Do you really need to kill yourself to save your life?  You might think so, if you look at the way some health fanatics strictly follow their diet or exercise plans.  However, not-so-novel research suggests that being healthy is much easier and more fun than we’ve made it out to be.  In Healthy Pleasures, an old but timeless book, authors Robert Ornstein, PhD and Davis Sobel, MD identify life’s simple pleasures and describe the proven ways they contribute to health and well-being.  

As it turns out, enjoying life (joie de vivre) helps us to be healthier by strengthening our immune systems and enabling us to bounce back from stress.  Here are some examples:

  • Looking at nature can lower blood pressure and helps patients to reduce their hospital stay.
  • Getting enough sunlight can reduce depression and sick days.
  • Spending time in the sauna may improve sleep and improve resistance to infection.
  • Being touched and cuddled helps premature babies to thrive, and helps adults ward off anxiety.
  • Listening to calming music can reduce stress hormones, speed recovery from surgery, and ease the pain of childbirth.
  • Soothing scents and delightful smells can evoke positive memories.
  • Thoroughly enjoying a wide variety of tasty food helps ensure adequate nutrient intake.
  • Fun activities like walking, dancing, gardening or playing catch can offer the same or greater health benefits as a high-intensity gym workout.
  • Napping and quality sleep boost immunity and cut heart attack risk.
  • Thinking positively may speed recovery from illness and surgery.
  • Laughter can boost mood, ease joint main and help fight stress.
  • Moderate indulgences in chocolate or wine may reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Having good friends increases lifespan.

Seeking these simple pleasures may also be the key to a happy life.  To be happy, collecting many small, joyful moments seems to be more important than experiencing a few grand moments of elation.

Other keys to health and happiness?  Getting an education and obtaining a job where you have autonomy.  (Side note: This adds to mounting evidence that advocating for social justice and better work environments may be more important than advocating for personal responsibility to improve public health.)

The Pleasure Principle is the idea that pleasure rewards us twice: first in immediate enjoyment and second in good health.  I think it’s time to put the pleasure back into our pursuit of health.

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