March 2, 2011

Happiness Adds To Health And Longevity

In a review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects, researchers have found "clear and compelling evidence" that happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy counterparts.

According to the review, published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, evidence linking an upbeat outlook on life to better health and longer life was stronger even than that linking obesity to reduced longevity.

"I was almost shocked, and certainly surprised, to see the consistency of the data," Ed Diener, the University of Illinois psychology professor emeritus, who lead the review, said in a statement.

This review is the most comprehensive so far to link happiness to healthy living.

Diener, who is also a senior scientist for the Gallup Organization of Princeton, New Jersey, 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.

While Diener said a few studies he reviewed found the opposite, the "overwhelming majority support the conclusion that happiness is associated with health and longevity."

"We reviewed eight different types of studies," said Diener. "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."

For example, a study following nearly 5,000 university students for more than 40 years found that those who were most pessimistic while in school tended to die younger than their peers. And an even longer-term study following 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 some exceptions, but most of the long-term studies reviewed found that anxiety, depression, lack of enjoyment of daily life and pessimism all are associated with higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.

The researchers also found strong links between stress and poor health in animal studies. In experiments following animals that receive the same care but differ in their stress levels they 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 speedy recovery of the heart after exertion. In studies showing human conflicts and hostility in married couples, for example, were associated with slow wound healing and a poorer immune response.

"Happiness is no magic bullet," said Diener. "But the evidence is clear and compelling that it changes your odds of getting disease or dying young."

"Current health recommendations focus on four things: avoid obesity, eat right, don't smoke, and exercise. It may be time to add "Ëœbe happy and avoid chronic anger and depression' to the list," Diener noted.


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