- Older people are up to 35% less likely to die if they report feeling happy, study finds
- Absence of happiness may be more important than presence of negative emotions
- Regions of brain involved in happiness are also involved in blood-vessel function
Older people were up to 35% less likely to die during the five-year study if they reported feeling happy, excited, and content on a typical day. And this was true even though the researchers took factors such as chronic health problems, depression, and financial security out of the equation.
"We had expected that we might see a link between how happy people felt over the day and their future mortality, but we were struck by how strong the effect was," says Andrew Steptoe, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at University College London, in the United Kingdom.
Previous studies on happiness and longevity have largely relied on the participants' ability to recall how they felt during a certain period of time in the past. These recollections aren't always accurate, though, and to get around this problem Steptoe and his colleagues asked more than 3,800 people to record their levels of happiness, anxiety, and other emotions at four specific times over the course of a single day.
The participants, who were between the ages of 52 and 79 when the study began, were divided into three groups according to how happy and positive they felt. Although the groups differed slightly on some measures (such as age, wealth, and smoking), they were comparable in terms of ethnic makeup, education, employment status, and overall health.
Five years later, 7% of people in the least happy group had died, compared with just 4% in the happiest group and 5% in the middle group.
When the researchers controlled for ag