“Health is not so much a Condition as an Attitude, and it thrives with the Enjoyment of Life." (Thomas Aquinas)
This insight of the Italian Theologian and Philosopher Thomas Aquinas dates from the 13th Century and yet, it is incredibly current! In his blog the Swiss happiness researcher Bruno S. Frey put an excellent point to it: “Recent research provides a clear answer to the question about the correlation between happiness and health: Increased life satisfaction is related to better health and a longer life". As a matter of fact, the latest research demonstrates: A happy life not only prolongs overall life expectancy by 14% (amounting to 10 years in the industrialized countries!), it also has a substantial impact on physical health. Consequently in this section we are not only going to deal with the physical aspect of health for your personality type but frequently with the psychological aspect, as well. The fact is that emotional and physical health benefit each other, they are intricately linked.
Therefore, in the matter of health it is a positive development that almost no area of psychological research is as booming and receives as much attention as so called positive psychology. In the early 90s of the last century, a group of psychologists asked themselves why so much attention had been focused on the origin of psychiatric disorders and their elimination by way of therapies, and very little attention had been dedicated to the origin of mental health and the circumstances supporting it. These psychologists wanted to change this, and to that end, began to increasingly dedicate themselves to researching the prerequisites of happiness, contentment, and physical and mental health.
In the meantime, there are an abundance of insights where these subjects are concerned. Today, much is known about why some people are happier and healthier than others, and why some people are even able to overcome serious misfortunes with relative ease and return to a full life albeit with limitations (for instance despite a handicap due to an accident). On the other hand, there are viable explanations for why many people are dissatisfied, ill and unhappy despite favorable living conditions or why some people have greater problems dealing with negative experiences. In summary, three life styles emerge as the result of this research. In a balanced combination they appear to be the guarantors for health and happiness:
- The hedonistic life style (dedicated to pleasure and the pursuit of enjoyment of life);
- The meaningful life style (dedicated to the search for a deeper meaning in life and service for a higher cause);
- The engaged life style (active self-actualization and the optimal development of all personal interests and talents).
In addition to these three life styles, research recognized additional factors that turned out to contribute to health and happiness (or detracting from it). They represent certain thought and behavior patterns that we practice—refrain from practicing—in everyday life. They in turn are largely responsible for our long-term feelings of health, happiness and contentment or, conversely, a sense of illness, unhappiness and discontent. As the preferred life style, certain inclinations and proclivities are obviously partially hereditary. Positive Psychology has identified twenty-four signature propensities that determine our thinking, feelings, and actions as permanent character traits. You are going to encounter six of these propensities, or characteristics, that research has determined are a contributing factor for contentment in life in this section:
- Sense of Humor
- Capacity for Relationships
Actually, there is something like a personal “set point value" for happiness. In a major study of twins, where some grew up together and others separately (i.e., in totally different environments), psychologist Thomas Bouchard from the University of Minnesota, established in 1994 that 50% of our happiness level is strongly influenced by our genes. Apparently, we are born with a specific “happiness benchmark" that more or less determines our ability for happiness for the rest of our lives. There may be short term fluctuations (for instance on the occasion of winning the lottery or losing a job) but after about three months we generally return to our previous level. It therefore appears that we are born with the capacity to feel a pre-determined amount of happiness and as with all cards dealt us by Mother Nature, there are some among us who were dealt three aces going in, and others who keep asking themselves what in God's name they are supposed to do with this lousy hand. Among our sixteen personality types are also those who are rightfully seen as having rather sunny dispositions from the get go, and then there are those whose starting position is rather more difficult. A certain injustice in the matter of health and happiness appears to be inherent in the system, so to speak, and thus this starting position is beyond our control. Much like our personality type or certain physical attributes like the color of our eyes or body size, it is hereditary.
However: 50% is only half of the whole! If we consider the other 50%, there is still a lot of room for change. Of this 50%, a predominant part is primarily governed by our behavior and thoughts—and that we can certainly control. For instance, Positive Psychology has unequivocally demonstrated that training programs for the consistent support of the inherent strengths will significantly increase contentment. This even applies to very adverse living circumstances such as traumatization or physical illnesses.
With this, you have the key to substantially improving your physical and mental health level practically in reach. Now it all depends on identifying and acting on the characteristics of your personality type to bring about important and appropriate thought and behavioral changes. Since we begin from different positions, it should be obvious that different strategies apply to each one of us. That is exactly the purpose here.
Health and happiness counselors dealing with these subjects and providing well-meaning advice for the masses are already a-dime-a-dozen. The problem is that—all too frequently—the recipient will only be able to apply a small portion of the offered wisdom for practical applications in his/her everyday life. After all, consultants must address as large an audience as possible and that is naturally at the expense of the individual. On the subject of health, happiness and life-shaping, the individual personality type is crucial for which strategies are suitable and successful, and which are not.
A simple example: It has been proven that regular exercise and athletic activities are just as effective against depression as are the best presently available anti-depression drugs. The positive effects on our physical wellbeing are common knowledge, as well. Accordingly, the advice by all health and happiness counselors is: “Do you exercise regularly?" Why are so few people successful in permanently integrating the positive effects of regular physical activities into their every day life? Simple enough—because they don't know their personal traits and prerequisites well enough, and therefore frequently attempt to be physically active against instead of in concert with their nature! Sooner or later failure is pre-ordained. The same also applies to many other health and happiness research findings.
If you recall the three positive lifestyles mentioned in the beginning of this article, one could for instance say that each one of our sixteen iPersonic personality types has a natural affinity for one of these three styles and, conversely, that it tends to neglect one or two of them. For instance, the Doer excels at enjoying life to the fullest, but spends relatively little time dealing with questions about the deeper meaning of life, while the Idealist is the expert who totally loses sight of enjoying the here and now for all that concentrating on the within, and the future. Similarly, the Thinker prefers to spend his energy on self-realization and perfecting their abilities—while ignoring the presence. For all their engagement on behalf of others or serving a good cause, the Realists frequently forget all about themselves in matters of enjoyment or self-realization. Bottom line: It is not only unnecessary to provide the same advice to each personality type, it is counter productive! Since the perfect way to health and happiness is a working mixture of all three styles, and not the preference for one of them, it is obviously important to show each personality type how he/she can continue following his/her natural inclinations in matters of lifestyle—to do even more of those things that suit him/her and that make him/her healthy and happy—and how he/she can focus on those health- and happiness-supporting aspects of his/her life that may have occasionally been delegated to the background. Not every style is the same good fit for everyone.
The same applies to changes in thought and behavior patterns using the six helpful character strengths. Again an example: Research has proven that friends and successful social contacts are beneficial for lasting life contentment and therefore important for physical and mental health. Here as well, it makes no sense to suggest to everybody: “Go forth and create a large circle of friends, it will keep you healthy and happy!" This advice is simply wasted on a very extroverted personality type because he/she already has an extensive list of acquaintances and friends in his little black book. It would probably serve him/her well to check the quality of these social contacts, the resiliency of his/her social network in case of a crisis and to re-evaluate priorities. On the other hand, a good suggestion to an introvert could be to re-evaluate the balance between his/her requirements for withdrawal and quiet, and the clearly human need for belonging and support— without putting too much pressure on him/herself. To remake an introverted person into a party animal is surely going to produce less happiness and more stress - which will rather sicken you than anything else. So, you see, the same psychological research results but with totally different significance for two different personality types.
This section was developed with the objective in mind to process general scientific knowledge on the subject of health and happiness for the benefit of individual personality types. With each strategy presented here, you will learn exactly what significance it has for your own personality type. If it has been one of your strengths all along, it'll be the objective for you to profit from it in your life even more. In case it does not fit in with your preferences, you'll find out where this could cause problems for your life and health and what a person of your type should watch out for if he/she wants to implement them. You will learn the pre-requisites for health and happiness to use in your every day life — and hopefully end up with a lot more health and happiness!
Or, to quote George Elliott:
“It's never too late to become who you might have been."