Scientific American reports on University of Pittsburgh research that says cheerful women live longer:
Women who were most cheery were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely than their pessimistic peers to die from all causes during the study period.
Researchers looked at data from 97,253 women. The writer is careful to say that cheerfulness is a link, not a cause of longevity. Nothing is said on whether cheerfulness assists men in a similar way, but it seems logical that it does.
The Book of Proverbs commends cheerfulness:
A cheerful heart is a good medicine,
but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (17.22 NRSV)
The opposite of cheerfulness is sadness. In some situations sadness is a good and necessary thing. When our beloved cat Carly died, we cried tears of sadness. But when sadness arises from an inexplicable source, or it doesn’t lessen over time, then it can be a problem. This kind of sadness can sabotage any potential for peace and joy. This may be why the tradition of spiritual theology lists sadness as one of the Eight Deadly Thoughts, which was precursor to the Seven Deadly Sins. Sadness can be deadly because it ‘dries up the bones’ and pulls us away from God and life.
I’m prone to sadness. Sometimes for no reason a melancholy mood comes over me. But I’ve found a few simple remedies.
1. Exercise. Physical activity will cleanse away sad thoughts.
2. Affirmation. Repeating a phrase like, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” This replaces the negative thought with a positive one.
3. Humor. Laughing at jokes, stories and silly television commercials. Even the simple act of smiling can lift my spirits.
4. Nature. Experiencing the beauty of a flower, a tree or the rain.
5. Creativity. Any creative activity can dispel sad thoughts.
6. Sharing. If I share sadness with a friend it weighs less on the heart. This includes sharing it with God in prayer.
On Saturday, when I began a draft of this post, I felt sad and listless for no reason. I wanted to do anything — even poke nails in my eyes — rather than work on my sermon. So I began writing about the sadness (#5). Later I went for a walk (#1). By Elm Street it started raining (#4), and by the time I reached home, my clothing was soaked and streams of water were pouring down my face. I laughed (#3) at the foolish man who went out without an umbrella. By the time I dried off, the sad thoughts were gone, and a cheerful spirit returned.
I have no urge to live longer, but I do want to live better, and sadness inhibits life. Chronic sadness may require medical attention. In the more modest forms I’ve experienced, these are some of my strategies for combating it.
What do you do to ease sadness and foster cheerfulness?