Happiness Improves Health and Lengthens Life, Review Finds
- ScienceDaily (Mar. 1, 2011) A review of more
than 160 studies of human and animal subjects
has found "clear and compelling evidence" that
-- all else being equal -- happy people tend
to live longer and experience better health
than their unhappy peers.
The study, in the journal Applied Psychology:
Health and Well-Being, is the most comprehensive
review so far of the evidence linking happiness
to health outcomes. Its lead author, University
of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology
Ed Diener, who also is a senior scientist for
the Gallup Organization, of Princeton, N.J.,
analyzed long-term studies of human subjects,
experimental human and animal trials, and studies
that evaluate the health status of people stressed
by natural events.
"We reviewed eight different types of studies,"
Diener said. "And the general conclusion from
each type of study is that your subjective
well-being -- that is, feeling positive about
your life, not stressed out, not depressed --
contributes to both longevity and better health
among healthy populations."
A study that followed nearly 5,000 university
students for more than 40 years, for example,
found that those who were most pessimistic as
students tended to die younger than their peers.
An even longer-term study that followed 180 Catholic
nuns from early adulthood to old age found that
those who wrote positive autobiographies in their
early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more
negative accounts of their young lives.
There were a few exceptions, but most of the
long-term studies the researchers reviewed found
that anxiety, depression, a lack of enjoyment of
daily activities and pessimism all are associated
with higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.
Animal studies also demonstrate a strong link between
stress and poor health. Experiments in which animals
receive the same care but differ in their stress
levels (as a result of an abundance of nest mates
in their cages, for example) have found that
stressed animals are more susceptible to heart
disease, have weaker immune systems and tend to
die younger than those living in less crowded conditions.
Laboratory experiments on humans have found that
positive moods reduce stress-related hormones,
increase immune function and promote the speedy
recovery of the heart after exertion. In other
studies, marital conflicts and high hostility in
married couples were associated with slow wound
healing and a poorer immune response.
"I was almost shocked and certainly surprised to
see the consistency of the data," Diener said.
"All of these different kinds of studies point
to the same conclusion: that health and then
longevity in turn are influenced by our mood states."
While happiness might not by itself prevent or
cure disease, the evidence that positive emotions
and enjoyment of life contribute to better health
and a longer lifespan is stronger than the data
linking obesity to reduced longevity, Diener said.
"Happiness is no magic bullet," he said. "But the
evidence is clear and compelling that it changes
your odds of getting disease or dying young."
"Although there are a handful of studies that find
opposite effects," Diener said, "the overwhelming
majority of studies support the conclusion that
happiness is associated with health and longevity.
Current health recommendations focus on four things:
avoid obesity, eat right, don't smoke, and exercise.
It may be time to add 'be happy and avoid chronic
anger and depression' to the list."
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