You’ll live better, and possibly longer, if you do.
Posted Sep 07, 2018
The connection between happiness—generally defined as life satisfaction and appreciation, the absence of negative feelings, positivity, and an optimistic approach to life—and good health is well established. While it’s not likely to cure chronic or terminal diseases, some research shows that happiness can help protect healthy people from getting sick. In fact, the evidence for happiness is so strong, researchers have compared its preventative health benefits to those of not smoking.
In a study published in the August 27, 2018 issue of Age and Ageing, researchers surveyed more than 4,000 residents of Singapore age 60 and older to determine if happiness helps older people live longer. A “happiness scale” was used to determine each participant’s sense of well-being. After six years of follow-up, the researchers noted that the death rate from all causes among the happiest participants was 19% lower than that for the most unhappy participants. They found consistent results among their youngest and oldest participants, both male and female, leading them to conclude that even small increments in happiness can help older people live longer.
So, what makes people happy? One British study that surveyed more than 845,000 women found that most of the women who initially reported being happy were still happy at follow-up, a year later. At the same time, most of the women who initially reported themselves as unhappy were still unhappy upon follow-up. The researchers noted several factors associated with the happier group. These included having less formal education, not smoking, living with a partner, having children, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep most nights, and engaging in group activities. While this study also found that happiness levels have direct no effect either way on the outcome of chronic conditions such as cancer or heart disease, the researchers did conclude that poor health causes unhappiness and also increases the risk of dying, and that being unhappy is often associated with poor lifestyle choices that can also increase the risk of dying.
Other studies on the relationship between happiness, health and mortality have had mixed results. Those studies that factored in participants’ state of health at the beginning of the study more often found little or no direct association between happiness and mortality. That may be because poor health in and of itself makes people unhappy, and also because people who are unhappy often take up unhealthy behaviors such as inactivity, cigarette smoking and increased alcohol and drug use, that can increase the risk of disease and early death.
Veenhoven R. Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies. September 2008; 9(3):449-469. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1?LI=true&__hstc=31671713.cde2cb5f07430159d50a3c91e72c280a.1522368000102.1522368000103.1522368000104.1&__hssc=31671713.1.1522368000105&__hsfp=1773666937
Chei C-L, Lee J M-L, Ma S, Malhotra R. Happy older people live longer. Age and Aging. August 27, 2018. https://academic.oup.com/ageing/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ageing/afy128/5073293?redirectedFrom=fulltext Duke-NUS Medical School. "Happy older people live longer: New study among senior Singaporeans suggests happiness may be key to longevity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180827100426.htm
DPhil BL, Floud S, Pirie K et al. Does happiness itself directly affect mortality? The prospective UK Million Woman Study. The Lancet. February 27 to March 4, 2016; 387(10021):874-881. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673615010879