Smile Away the Flu

Happy people heal faster. The link between positive thinking and the immune response.

By PT Staff, published on September 9, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Keeping your chin up when you feel lousy really does help you heal. Neurologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a link between the body's immune response and a positive attitude. Their conclusion: Happy people heal faster.

A group of 52 Wisconsinites volunteered to be vaccinated against the flu. Before administering the vaccinations, neuroscientist Richard Davidson and colleagues scanned the subjects' brain activity as they recalled a vividly happy memory and as they thought of another that made them feel sad or angry. The prefrontal cortex regulates our emotional responses—the right side registers negative emotions and the left positive ones.

Researchers tracked the antibody count of the volunteers over the following six months. A half year after being vaccinated, the happier subjects—those with more activity in the left prefrontal lobe—had more antibodies in their system. Less positive subjects had a weaker immune response.