Most of us, particular in our society, would love to look younger. In fact, as the world is about to turn its attention to the Academy Awards this weekend--and the endless parade of youth and beauty on display--over the next few days, those of us watching are likely to become even more self-conscious than usual about our own looks and age. Of course, for many celebrities, the "secret" to youth and beauty is good lighting, great makeup (and strategic padding), and probably some great doctors--and all the money, attention, and pain required to look that way.
But what if the secret to turning back aging was much, much simpler? What if all we had to do to unlock the fountain of youth is work on our own inward state of happiness?
A new study, released just released this week (click here for a layman's description), provides startling new proof of just that: depression accelerates the aging process. And getting undepressed--commonly called "happiness"--reverses it.
As anyone who's ever been severely depressed can attest (myself included twenty years ago), depression creates enormous stress in the body. It's almost the very definition of depression: existing in a state of extreme stress. It's that feeling of being under pressure, of heaviness, of possibly breaking apart into pieces and the struggle to hold oneself together. And of course, most depression is accompanied with at least some degree of anxiety.
In turn, the connection between stress and aging is pretty obvious. We only need to look at virtually every president of the United States in the modern era, including Obama: they start out looking younger and vigorous, yet in a few years, they've quickly gone gray. Stress causes other problems: weight gain, dark circles under the eyes, loss of energy, a desire to take care of ourselves. To a degree, I think, when we're depressed, we're subconsciously wanting to age faster, it's a passive way of hastening our deaths--and thereby ending our suffering--that much quicker.
The reverse is also true. An abundance of studies, such as here, here and here (among hundreds), show the numerous benefits of being happy, including that happy people live longer.
Beyond the studies, my own experience confirms this to be true. For example, I know many, many people who live happy, spiritually integrated lives. More than once, I've noticed--and other friends have remarked on--how these people often look as much as 20 years younger than they really are. I've met lots of people in their fifties and sixties who still don't have a line on their faces or much gray in their hair. They could easily pass for their late 30's. And in every case, their secret is that they've spent years getting happy, usually through spiritual practices. It's not even that obvious things like their diets or amount of exercise are so different than most. More than a few of them eat pretty appallingly and don't exercise that much. And, they certainly don't spend thousands on clothing, makeup, beauty cures, or surgery. It's clearly their overall disposition and spiritual outlook that make the difference.
The best thing of all about this approach to reversing aging: it's not just something on the outside, it's something we get to experience and enjoy on the inside. Something that we carry with us and truly benefit from every minute of the day. It's real and lasting, not an illusion or facade for others.
So anytime you find yourself pining to restore some of your "lost" youth, just remind yourself that you, too, can have that--and much better than most. Make a concerted effort to learn authentic strategies and practices for happiness. Not only will you feel better, you'll look younger and probably live longer, too.