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Happiness Improves Health and Lengthens Life, Review Finds

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  • medit8ionsociety
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2011
      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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