If you’re lucky enough to enjoy strong social bonds, you’re likely to live a longer, healthier life than people who are more isolated. Ever wondered why? It turns out that feeling socially excluded or rejected sets off an alarm in the brain similar to the response we have in the face of a potential physical threat. A recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles, US, found that this state of alert cascades through the body, triggering responses that compromise immunity and cause inflammation.

Fortunately for the social creatures among us, scientists believe the opposite is also true: loving and being loved; caring and being cared for enliven the parts of your brain that calm the body and reduce fear. “What’s clear,” wrote UCLA researchers Drs Naomi Eisenberger and Steve Cole in Nature Neuroscience, “is that social connections reach deep into the body to regulate some of our most fundamentally internal molecular processes.”

Of course, factors beyond our control, like genetics and life events, can influence how happy we are. But a big part of our happiness is up to us, says Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, US. Next time you feel down, add something you love – yoga, meditation, a hike, a catch-up with an old friend – to your day, and feel your spirits lift.

40%:  The approximate percentage of your happiness that comes from doing activities you enjoy (like yoga).

gene-ius discovery

Yoga doesn’t just benefit your mind and body. New research from Norway has found that yoga may strengthen the immune system by changing “gene expression” – a process that uses information in your genes to make a gene product – in your immune cells.

Study participants practised yoga for two days, then spent the next two days taking nature walks and listening to music. Researchers examined the blood of participants before and after each activity, and found that yoga changed the expression of almost triple the number of immune cells that the nature walks did – 111 to 38.