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The Carnegie-Mellon study has focused on the common cold. For sixteen years now, researchers have been exposing volunteers to colds by spraying rhinoviruses into their noses. Persons are then quarantined for five days to see who gets sick and who doesn’t. Guess what…

  • High-strung, anxious, and unhappy people are three times more likely to get sick than those who are relaxed and contented.
  • When happy people do get sick, their symptoms are milder.
  • The most likely persons to get sick in the lab are those under personal or work-related stress for the previous thirty days.
  • A positive social life – including one that involves diverse roles such as friend, spouse, parent, church member – improves resistance to illness.

Some of these factors are obviously beyond a person’s ability to control. I can’t help a company downsizing that eliminates my job. You can’t avoid the stress that comes with your mother’s death, your son’s posting to Iraq, or an automobile accident in which you were the victim. Even in these situations beyond our control, though, there are positive and negative reactions to choose.

  • Avoid negative, whining souls.
  • Pick friends who smile easily and like to laugh.
  • Don’t just “attend church,” but find a Sunday School class, join the choir, or – if you’re tone-deaf – watch for “Volunteers Needed” in the church bulletin.
  • Go to an open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous – even if you don’t drink.
  • Join a civic club.
  • Volunteer at a nearby nursing home.
  • Exercise.

If you’re overextended from volunteering too many times already, give yourself permission to scale back. “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) Your ability to reflect authentic joy is a partnership with God. It is a form of gentle courage to look for rays of his light in life’s dark places.