“People in their golden years are less likely to die within the next 5 years if their emotions are positive.” –ScienceNow
As it turns out, happiness is more than just a positive mood; it also leads to a longer life. Researchers at University College London (UCL) recently conducted a study showing that happier people are 35% less likely to die over the next five years than their less cheerful counterparts.
Traditionally, though, it has been difficult evaluating ‘happiness’ because it’s unclear whether participants are reporting how they are actually feeling or how they remember feeling in past circumstances. Some people may report a disproportionate ratio of positive emotions, omitting negative feelings, or vice versa. Or they might compare their own experiences with someone else’s leading to skewed data.
But the English Longitudinal Study of Aging used a method developed as a more precise measure of experienced well-being. UCL researchers followed a cohort of older men and women living in England, adjusting for age, sex, demographic variables such as wealth and education, depression, health, and other lifestyle habits such as smoking and physical activity.
They English study followed more than 11,000 people 50 years old or older since 2002 over a 5-year span. Saliva samples were collected throughout participants’ day in 2004, corresponding to each time they rated how happy, excited, content, worried, anxious, and fearful they felt.
According the published report, respondents in the lowest third of what they called “Positive Affect (PA)” had a death rate of 7.3% compared with 4.6% in the medium PA group and 3.6% in the highest PA group.
This research shows a correlation between positive emotional states with a longer life. But a main takeaway point of this study, says Psychologist Andrew Steptoe (UCL) is that “people’s life circumstances are also very relevant.” Dr. Steptoe says it’s important to consider the kind of needs that lead to greater perceived happiness, and to ensure that these requirements are met for people such as the elderly, such as sufficient money, health care, and social support.