Happiness Improves Your Health

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Early in 2011, while Bob and I were waiting for an elevator at the VA Hospital in West Los Angeles, Bob began chatting with someone walking by. While the two of them were deep in conversation, a retired general stepped up and asked, “Are you with Bob?”

I said, “Yes, I’m his son-in-law.”


The general looked me in the eye, as possibly only generals can do, reached out, took hold of my shirtsleeve, and said, “That man makes life worth living.” He meant it.

After the elevator ride and a stroll to the bus stop, I helped Bob onto the bus for a ride over to another VA building. Once he was seated on the bus and happily waving to me, the bus driver came over, started shaking his head, as possibly only bus drivers who have seen-it-all can do, and said, “He is the greatest. He always brightens my day.” He also meant it.

It’s hard to believe that almost a year has passed since we celebrated Bob’s ninety-three years at his full-military-honored memorial service.

Robert Milne Yates, or Bob as most everyone knew him, was a walking dispensary of joy. Everywhere he went he touched lives. Perhaps, we could say that he was a healer, of sorts.

Why should we consider Bob a healer? I doubt he would ever think of himself in that way, yet, conceivably, we could because of the recognized connection between happiness and health.

Bob had a gift of spreading happiness. He was an entertainer. He loved an audience. He met no strangers. He always had a kind word for everyone and took a genuine interest in the lives of those he met. Something said would remind him of a joke or a one-liner and then another. He made everyone smile when he came into a room. When you heard laughter, it was usually Bob’s fault.

In making the case for considering Bob a healer, perhaps I should toss the findings of researchers into the mix. The physical health benefits of laughter have been reported as boosting immunity, lowering stress hormones, decreasing pain, relaxing muscles, and preventing heart disease.

Additionally, studies have shown the mental health benefits of laughter to be increased zest for life, easing of anxiety and fear, relief from stress, improved mood, and enhanced resilience.

When I think of all the people impacted by Bob’s jokes and jovial nature, it is hard for me to calculate the positive mental and physical health outcomes he may have unknowingly brought about.

From 1938 to 1941 Bob lived in the Los Angeles area, playing drums with various orchestras and working as a musician in movies at MGM, 20th Century Fox, and Universal Studios.

He served in the United States Army during World War II, from 1941 to 1945. In addition to his weapon, he carried a set of drumsticks as he and the First Armored Division Band entertained fellow soldiers in Ireland, England, North Africa, and Italy.

Unfortunately, while in North Africa, Bob was injured while diving into a foxhole to avoid enemy fire. He was honorably discharged from the Army and returned to California to bring smiles to those he influenced while filming movies, playing nightclub shows, working in retail for years, and while being a friend to his neighbors.

Further, in making the case for considering Bob a healer are the results found by researchers Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. The 2008 work done by these two researchers and some of their colleagues assessed happiness from a twenty-year study that evaluated data from over 4,700 participants.

The introduction to their research findings, states, in part, “The World Health Organization is increasingly emphasizing happiness as a component of health. …People can ‘catch’ emotional states they observe in others over time frames ranging from seconds to weeks.”

The study’s conclusion reads, “People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.”

Perhaps no governing body will ever throw a posthumous doctoral degree Bob’s way. And agreeably everyone who spreads joy and cracks jokes shouldn’t necessarily hang out their pharmaceutical shingle. Yet, bottom line – even though he may never have been in the same comedic league as Ellen DeGeneres or Robin Williams, I believe Bob deserves to be remembered and admired as someone who enriched lives, worldwide. I can say his overall motive was to bring a degree of genuine respect and happiness to others.

If you can touch the heart of a general and soul of a bus driver, you have done some good.

Time spent with Bob was more than fun moments filled with family, laughter, and smiles. These were hours where I experienced the full benefits of happiness.

A quote from Mary Baker Eddy, Christian author noted for her ideas about spirituality and health, perhaps sums up the feelings of those who knew Bob and his contributions to society. Eddy wrote, “The sublime summary of an honest life satisfies the mind craving a higher good, and bathes it in the cool waters of peace on earth; till it grows into the full stature of wisdom, reckoning its own by the amount of happiness it has bestowed upon others.”

The affect of Bob’s joy on others encourages me to continue exploring the fundamentally mental nature of life, and the mental as well as spiritual way that health can be improved and reliably maintained.

– Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com