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Prof. Akira Tsuda
Kurume University, Japan
Happiness and Psychobiological Stress Responsiveness

The meta-analyses by Chida and Steptoe (2008) have shown that both positive affect (e.g., emotional well-being) and positive trait-like dispositions (e.g., life satisfaction, optimism) were associated with happiness in healthy population studies.   These evidence suggests that happiness, de?ned as people's generalized cognitive and affective evaluations of their lives that positive rather than negative things exist in one’s life, may be protective for health during times of heightened stress.   Yet, the mechanisms under lying the potential protective effect of happiness on perceived stress and/or health remain unclear (Tsuda, 2014).


Most previous studies have been based on western societies such as European and American.   There are very few similar studies that examine the relationship between happiness and psychobiological stress responses in Japanese sample.  Here we investigate the relationship between dispositional happiness andstress-induced changes in cardiovascular responses and mood during and after experimentally mental stress testing.


A total of 392 Japanese college students completed the Japanese version of the Subjective Happiness Scale (JSHS) which has been found to be reliable and valid (Shimai et al., 2004).   The average JSHS score was 4.40, with a standard deviation (SD) of 1.09.   This study defined happier students as those whose scores were one standard deviation (SD) higher than the average score, while less happy ones as those whose scores were one SD lower thanthe average one.   A total of 76 and 60 students qualified as happiness group and low happiness group, respectively.Eight participants in the happiness group and nine participants in the low happiness group agreed to participate the subsequent mental stress testing involving speech and mental arithmetic task at the experimental room.


Heart rate was continuously measured during the experiment using the Heart Rhythm Scanner 2.0 (Biocom Technologies, San Francisco) and was assessed as an objective indicator of psychobiological stress responsiveness.Subjective stress responses involving mental workload and mood were assessed by NASA-TLX and the Japanese UWIST mood adjective checklist (Okamura, Tsuda, & Yajima, 2004) before, during and after the experimental session,in which consisted of a 10 minutes pre-task period, a five-minute two consecutive tasks (i.e., speech and arithmetic) period followed by a 30 minutes post-task period.


For participants in both high and low happiness groups, HR levels and negative moods such as mental work load and tension increased significantly from the pre-task to the task periods, and subsequently decreased during the post-task period.   In addition, levels of positive mood such as energy decreased from the pre-task to the task period. HR reactivity as well as recovery and negative moods induced by the mental stress testing were significantly lower in high happiness group than in low happiness group during the post-task period.


The present studyindicated that when compared to the low happiness group, HR in the highhappiness group was significantly greater induced by mental stress testing, and promptly return to basal level following the mental stress testing.   These findings suggest that subjective happiness buffers the impact of stressors on psychobiological stress responses such as cardiac activity by influencing negative and positive mood.It might be thought that subjective well-being such as happiness promotehealth,bycounteractingstress-inducedincreasesin perceived and psychobiological responsiveness andboostingtheadjuvanteffectsofacutestress.

Akira Tsuda is a Professor of Health psychology, Kurume University, Fukuoka, Japan. He was a visiting professor of University of Rhode island, USA and St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was awarded the most excellent article in 1996 from the Japanese Society of Behavioral Medicine, as well as was awarded the most excellent article in 2012 from the Japanese Society of Logotherapy. He has more 200 publications in the area of stress, quality of life, health and happiness including: Randomized controlled trial of the effects of L-ornithine on stress markers and sleep quality in healthy workers. Nutrition Journal, 2014, 13:53.
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