Andrew Steptoe of University College London (UCL) recently published findings that show happy people aren’t just pleasant to be around; they’re also more likely to live longer.
Traditionally, scientists had to rely on personal narratives to measure happiness, but Steptoe suspected those results were unreliable since it was unclear whether the individuals “assess how they’re actually feeling or how they remember feeling.”
At the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Steptoe and UCL colleague, Jane Wardle, tried to overcome this obstacle by analyzing data from 11,000 individuals, age 50 or older, that had been followed since 2002. In 2004, the study collected saliva samples four times in one day and rated how happy, excited, content, worried, anxious, or fearful the subjects felt. Although the saliva samples are still being analyzed for stress hormones, Steptoe and Wardle were able to find a link between mood and death rate.
Out of the original 11,000 people in the study, 924 were rated with the least positive feelings, and 1,399 were rated with the most positive feelings. After adjusting for age, sex, wealth, education, signs of depression, diseases, and lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking and exercise, the researchers found that 7.3%, or 67 out of the 924 least positive individuals had died within 5 years of the test, while only 3.6% (50 out of 1399) of the most positive individuals had died.
Although the findings are not proof that happiness equates to a longer life, the correlation does demonstrate that good moods tend to elongate life.
Laura Carstensen at Stanford University believes the success of the study stems from the new approach: “Asking people to record their moods really does give you something different than asking people to tell you about their lives.”