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Happiness for health and long life

An analysis of 160 studies highlights the fact that happy people tend to live longer and with better health, according to the summary published in Applied Psychology: Health and well-being. Let’s have a look at the benefits attributed to this highly sought after, yet subjective emotion that is happiness.

Happiness and health
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Ed Diener, psychology professor of Illinois and Micaela Chan of Texas, pulled together studies of different types: following populations over the long-term, ill or not; physiology experiments; studies on the influence of environment on animals; analysis of treatment impacts; and studies on the quality of life and the influence of factors such as pain or mobility issues.

Looking at what? The benefits of happiness!

Happiness and living longer

A number of studies looked at the impact of wellbeing on longevity. Ed Diener particularly mentions a study published in 2006 that followed 4989 students over 40 years (1964-2004): those who were the most pessimistic tended to die younger than their optimistic counterparts.

  • Another study published in 2004, over a 11-year period with 866 people suffering from cardiac problems, showed that those who lived the longest were the least depressive, the most positive.
  • Work published in 2001 analysed the personal diaries of 180 American nuns who were followed for over a number of decades. Those who expressed the most positive feelings and who were more joyous in their autobiographical writing were those who survived the longest.
  • For 3,149 Dutch people studied over 28 years, it is ageing happily, satisfied with their lives that is linked to longevity, despite past or present health problems. More of the same from 11,557 Germans: the degree of happiness influenced lifespan, in particular for men, and those suffering from a chronic illness.

This work and other analyses carried out by Diener and Chan showed that the impression of happiness and positive thoughts impact lifespan, despite both previous and current medical problems.

Happiness for good health

Logically, if happiness extends lifespan, then it should also be associated with a diminution of health problems. This logic is confirmed through the analysis of a number of other studies.

  • As such, the personal satisfaction levels of 3,363 elderly Taiwanese were evaluated: those qualified as the happiness were equally, 8 years ago, those who moved about easiest (better mobility).
  • For 1,739 Canadians, happiness was linked to a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, independent of other risk factors.
  • Another study of 29,173 Finnish twins aged between 18 to 54, showed that those who were the happiest in their lives had less accidents, less handicaps and a lesser amount of severe mental problems, no matter what their general state of health.
  • And in a final study of 9,981 Australians (even if Diener and Chan’s paper features many more): the results show that the level of anxiety and depression of the people followed over 3 years is a predictive factor of cardiac incidents.

Encouraging happiness across society

As you can see, the studies on links between feeling happy and good health were carried out across the globe, show that enjoying life protects, while anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of fulfilling activities in one’s life are harmful. Similar links were also found in the labs with studies carried out on animals (rats, pigs etc.).

According to the authors, positive moods improve immune function, support post-effort cardiac recovery and also accelerate healing. To enjoy good health, it is thus essential to think positive.

Diener and Chan even estimate that over and above normal governmental nutritional, physical activity and addiction avoidance recommendations, action should be taken as a priority within society to improve each individual’s happiness so that they can enjoy life, thereby bringing benefit to overall public health in each country.

Source: "Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity", Ed Diener and Micaela Y. Chan, Applied Psychology: Health and well-being, January 2011

Posted 24.03.2011

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