As we get older, our health becomes one of the most important things we have. People are likely to change their diet, take vitamins and supplements and start medication regimens to help them feel better. But could the key to health be something as simple as happiness? A new study suggests this may be so.

Researchers from University College London assessed 3,199 men and women age 60 and over living in England. They examined the link between those who had positive well-being and physical strength compared to those who were lacking over the span of 8 years. Participants were asked to rate their enjoyment of life through questions and personal interviews.

What researchers found was that older participants who enjoyed life more showed slower declines in physical health. They were less likely to develop impairments with daily activities such as bathing, dressing or getting out of bed. Those who were unhappy were more likely to suffer from diabetes, stroke, cancer or arthritis.

What’s interesting is that the ‘happiness’ recorded in this study had nothing to do with being in better health, having more money or leading more interesting lifestyles. True happiness, after all, comes from within.

So, how can you help yourself or your loved one be happier?

  • Make the Choice: You can choose to be happy. It’s not necessarily easy, but making the conscious effort to be happy is telling yourself that you will actively choose behaviors and attitudes that lead to happiness over unhappiness.
  • Be Grateful: Take time each day to think about the things you are grateful for. Write a list to help you, and don’t forget to note the small things in life such as being able to drive to the grocery store, read a book or have a warm, safe home. This shifts us away from being bitter or resentful.
  • Practice Forgiveness: If you have been holding resentment toward another person or people, you’re only hurting yourself. Forgiveness does not mean you’re forgetting what happened, but it is something that you can do for yourself so that you can move on.
  • Avoid Negative Thinking: When you feel negative thoughts coming on, learn to deal with them in a healthy, productive manner. Breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or journaling can help. It’s not that you are pushing away deeper problems, but instead taming negative thinking.
  • Choose Meaningful Activities: Watching TV is not exactly meaningful, even though it may keep you busy. Find activities that make you feel good about yourself and life in general, such as volunteering with animals or knitting blankets for those in need