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Can happiness lead toward health?


Dec. 5, 2016 Harvard University

The ironic thing about modern health care is that it isn’t really about health at all, said Laura Kubzansky. It’s about disease.

But the problem with a disease-focused health care system is that health is more than the absence of disease, she said. Just as disease sets in motion an array of physiological reactions, there is increasing evidence that happiness and well-being are connected to bodily processes as well.

Kubzansky, the Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the co-director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, made the comments Friday outside a symposium on the science of health and happiness at the New Research Building on Harvard’s Longwood campus.

The event was something of an academic coming-out party for the new center, which was established earlier this year with the support of a $21 million gift from the Lee Kum Kee family.

Inside the auditorium, attendees heard about what Kubzansky said has long been a “quiet science,” but one that is emerging as evidence accumulates that human health, well-being, and happiness are connected.

Francesca Dominici, the Harvard Chan School’s senior associate dean for research, said the new center will focus on developing a “rigorous science” on how positive psychological and social factors can influence health and how to translate those findings into public policy with the aim of improving health broadly.

Kasisomayajula Viswanath, the center’s other co-director and Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said translating those findings into policy will be an important part of the center’s mission. Doing so, he said, means crossing a “chasm” between what happens in the research world and in the halls of power. The journey means more than just appearing on television, he said, and involves interacting with policymakers in ways that result in real changes.

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