It is every parent’s desire to have a healthy child. The moment a baby is born, doctors and specialists monitor vital signs and physical health. As the child grows, parents focus on good nutrition to ensure that the child stays healthy. There are regular visits to the paediatrician for vaccinations and wellness checks. Hygiene is given top priority. Bottles are sterilised, special detergents are used for baby clothes, hands are sanitised...the list goes on.
It always surprises me that while everyone focuses so much on a child’s physical health, no one seems to think about the child’s emotional health. Why does no one think about how happy a child is? It is probably because they don’t realise that the connection between health and happiness is undeniably strong. This article attempts to explore this connection to establish the importance of happiness in a child’s health and well-being.
Unhappiness and Health Problems
Before we look at the impact of happiness on health, it may be worthwhile to examine the impact of unhappiness on health. Research has established beyond doubt that unexpressed anger causes a spike in blood pressure, prolonged sadness lowers immunity and extreme anxiety leads to bowel disorders, ulcers and acidity. Essentially, anger, sorrow and anxiety are negative emotions, and their presence signifies unhappiness.
Children from dysfunctional families are unhappy. Such children tend to fall ill more often, and appear to have colds and coughs throughout the year. This is a result of lower immunity, which in turn is linked to their unhappiness.
In my line of work, I often work with children who suffer from psycho-somatic illnesses, which are basically a manifestation of physical symptoms due to psychological reasons. When the psychological problems are effectively addressed, physical health automatically improves. This led me to think about the so-called ‘normal’ children, and their health in terms of their happiness quotient.
Physical health impacts your child's overall well-being but did you know that emotional health is equally important? Read this article to know more.
How Happiness Impacts Health
The Journal of Research in Personality (Volume 35, Issue 4, December 2001, Pages 521-536) reported a definite positive correlation between happiness and health. Greater the happiness better is the health. Below are some pointers that happiness can enhance the physical health and well-being of children.
Happy children laugh more
It is no surprise that children who are happy tend to laugh more. Research has shown that laughter is very good for the body. When a child laughs, his body takes in more oxygen, thereby detoxifying him naturally. In addition, what a child laughs wholeheartedly, it leads to a release of endorphins in her body. Endorphins are feel-good hormones, which combat the negative effects of the stress hormone Cortisol, thereby giving a boost to her immunity. Moreover, full-body laughter creates vibrations that are akin to massaging the internal organs of the body, which in turn enhances health.
Happy children sleep better
Children who are happy report better quality of sleep. Sleep is restorative. When children sleep restfully, their body naturally repairs any damaged cells or tissues, thereby strengthening them from within, and boosting their physical health.
Happy children usually follow a healthy lifestyle
Unhappy children manifest eating disorders and psychological problems because they often have low self-esteem. Happy children, on the other hand, have a more positive outlook towards life, and generally, tend towards healthy foods and better lifestyle choices. Researchers have found that children who spend more time outdoors are generally happier than children who are cooped up in their rooms, glued to devices. Thus, happiness and healthy lifestyle choices appear to share a reciprocal relationship.
Happy children are more physically active
Happiness often leads to enthusiasm and creativity. This, in turn, encourages free exploration and spontaneous play. Studies have shown a correlation between play and the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates the child to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation. When children engage in play spontaneously, dopamine levels go up, in turn helping to sustain the activity levels of the child. Greater levels of activity prevent obesity, and keep the child physically fit and toned.
How can you improve your child’s happiness quotient?
As a parent, if you can identify the things that your child enjoys, you can naturally provide opportunities for him to engage in those activities. Free play is known to boost happiness. Ensuring that your child spends at least an hour a day engaging in spontaneous, unstructured play activities can be helpful in enhancing happiness.
Quality time spent with significant adults also enhances a sense of well-being in children, thereby making them happier and healthier, both physically and emotionally. It might help to put away your own devices for a while and engage in conversation or games with your little ones on a regular basis.
When you engage more with your children and see them become happier and consequently healthier, you will also find this reflecting positively on your own health and happiness levels. So, go on, and enjoy your children, enjoy parenting, and reap the benefits of happier, healthier days.
The author is a child psychologist who uses non-directive play to help children therapeutically.