New research published in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal suggests that people who live happy lives can live longer than those who lead lives riddled with stress and unhappiness. Researchers from the University College in London discovered that happy people could reduce their risk of death by up to 35%.
To gauge the level of happiness among participants, British researchers used a technique known as Ecological Momentary Assessment to rate the feelings of 3,853 individuals between the ages of 52 and 79 at several times throughout one day. Then, five years later researchers documented the number of participants who had passed away, controlling for a number of factors such as age, education, gender, health, marital status and wealth.
“This approach gets closer to measuring how people actually feel,” said Andrew Steptoe, a psychology professor at University College in London and a co-author of the study. “It’s perfectly true that someone’s happiness over a single day will be affected by what happens to them over that period.”
The study also demonstrates that how happy a person is at any moment is also a result of “some background disposition,” as some people tend to be naturally happier than others. It also shows that what a person is doing, who they are doing it with and a variety of other factors all play an important role in a person’s level of happiness.
“I was a bit surprised that the happiness effect was so strong,” Steptoe shared. “Even among people who had chronic diseases.”
The study results have clear implications for all of us, and perhaps could hold the key to increased longevity, especially among older individuals. Although adequate healthcare and sufficient funds for retirement will always be important, the vital role that a positive outlook plays should not be overlooked.
What remains unclear according to Steptoe is the question of whether or not happy feelings themselves are actually one of the keys to longevity, or if there is some other mysterious force at work. Research has long suggested that those who seem to have an inherent sense of happiness can experience an extended life span, but it remains to be seen how this could be practically put to use in modern medicine.
The results of this particular study are quite remarkable, in part because they had a fairly small observation group and observed their happiness levels for just one day. Since it is likely that at least some of the participants were having a bad day, the correlation between happiness and longevity is even stronger.
Participants were asked to rate their happiness level from 1 to 4, with one being “Not at all happy” and four representing “Extremely happy,” at 7 am, 7:30 am, 7 pm and 7:30 pm. Most reported feeling happiest in the evening around 7 pm, while in general they felt less happy early in the morning just after waking up. Although it remains unclear what the implications will be over time, future research is sure to attempt to gain a better understanding of how happiness can equate to living longer.