Is it a surprise that being happy increases your life expectancy?
A new study by the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) at University College, London (UCL) and published in the British Medical Journal says people who are over-50 are more likely to live longer if they experience satisfying feelings.
Being able to quantify an abstract concept such as happiness – which, naturally, is subjective – is no easy task. Previous efforts to analyse people’s happiness have failed to produce any similar links between contentment and long life.
However, director of the ELSA, Professor Andrew Steptoe, is confident in their results, and says the study is different from previous ones. The team – who interviewed 9365 men and women- utilised a variety of interrogation techniques other than “Are you happy?” which was used in earlier studies.
Steptoe says their recent work sought to examine a person’s happiness over an extended period of time. “You need these more detailed measures, focused on issues around wellbeing,” he added.
Researchers spent four years collecting data. Between 2002 and 2006 they interviewed participants on three different occasions, discussing family, social circle, and work. Those who responded to feeling contented across those three years with “sustained wellbeing” were at a lower risk of death.
Those interviewed who expressed no enjoyment in any areas of their life were more likely to die sooner. “These people never enjoy the things they do, or they rarely enjoy them,” Steptoe said.
1,310 of the participants died during the study’s follow-up period. Compared with those who said they experience “no levels of high enjoyment,” there was a 17% reduction in overall mortality for those who said they experienced two such levels of satisfaction over the four years, and a 24% reduction for those who said they experienced three.
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