Live long and prosper ... by being happy?
A new study suggests that older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying over a five-year period than unhappy people. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The happiness could be a marker of some other aspect of people's lives which is particularly important for health," study researcher Andrew Steptoe, a professor at University College, London, told The Telegraph. "For example, happiness is quite strongly linked to good social relationships, and maybe it is things like that that are accounting for the link between happiness and health."
For the study, researchers gauged the happiness levels of 3,853 people ages 52 to 79 by monitoring their feelings several times over a day. Then, five years later, the researchers kept track of how many of those people had died, USA Today reported.
Researchers said that this method of gauging happiness several times over a day is a better approach than asking someone generally how happy they are. People who have strong personalities might respond according to what they think they are supposed to say rather than what they are actually feeling, according to USA Today.
Researchers also took into account the study participants' health, age, marital status and education level. After they controlled for things like medical conditions (cancer, diabetes) and negative health risks (like smoking), researchers still found that being happy was linked with living longer, MSNBC reported.
"I was a bit surprised that the happiness effect was so strong, even among people who had chronic diseases," Steptoe told MSNBC.
The research backs up many other studies that show a link between happiness and longevity. A review of 160 studies published earlier this year in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being shows that the better we feel about our well-being, the longer we tend to live.
One of the studies included in that review involved 5,000 college students who were followed for more than 40 years. Researchers found that pessimistic students died earlier than their more optimistic peers, ScienceDaily reported. Another study involving 180 Catholic nuns who wrote autobiographies in their early 20s showed that nuns whose autobiographies were more positive had longer lives.
Another study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, shows that the happier a person is, the less likely he or she is to "catch" a cold. Further, happy people who managed to contract some sort of virus reported less severe symptoms than less-happy people.
It's not just happiness that seems to have a physical effect on us -- laughter has been shown in research to have health-boosting effects, too. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore found that laughter had the same effect on blood vessels as exercise; their work was presented at the European Society of Cardiology's conference earlier this year.