Washing Our Hands Makes Us Feel More Optimistic

As the Dalai Lama tells us, “as human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… and we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace.” But what if you could achieve the goal of being happier through the simplest of daily activities – like hand washing?

A new study from the University of Cologne, in Germany, examined how the act of washing one’s hands can positively affect us after a bad experience or stressful event, while also making us feel more optimistic after recent failure. Earlier research from the University of Michigan found that hand washing can be physically and emotionally cleansing, showing that this simple act can make us feel more comfortable about decisions we’ve made or actions we’ve taken.

For me, when I’m done with my workout at the gym, the first thing I do is wash my hands. Somehow, this simple ritual provides a sense of finality and accomplishment – the hand washing, that is. The workout ritual is far more complex (at least for me).

The act of seeking cleanliness has two distinct meanings to us humans. The first is the obvious physical hygiene benefits. The second is more psychological in nature.

The importance of hand washing wasn’t always known, however. In 1847 a physician working in a Viennese maternity hospital, with two separate clinics, discovered that babies delivered by physicians had nearly triple the infant mortality as babies delivered by midwives. The reason was that the doctors coming into the hospital to deliver babies had just finished up duties in the autopsy ward, thereby carrying and infecting mother and child with numerous germs acquired from their deceased patients. Once doctors were instructed to wash their hands with an antiseptic solution before delivering babies, the mortality rate plummeted.

While it’s obvious now that hand washing keeps us healthier, it also seems likely that it has some subtle psychological effects as well.

 

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