Positive Emotions, Good Health Have Strong Link In Developing Countries, Study Finds

Happy, confident and attractive senior woman with positive attitude, isolated with blue sky as background and copy space.
Happy, confident and attractive senior woman with positive attitude, isolated with blue sky as background and copy space.

Is the concept of emotions having an effect on health a "First World" problem? According to a new study, no, it is not -- and in fact, the association may be even stronger in developing nations.

A new study from the University of California, Irvine, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that positive emotions affect the health of people around the world, and most significantly in countries with lower income.

"We wondered whether the fact that emotions make a difference in our health is simply because we have the luxury of letting them,” study researcher Sarah Pressman, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the university, said in a statement. "We wanted to assess the impact of emotions on health in places where people face famine, homelessness and serious safety concerns that might be more critical correlates of wellness.”

Previous studies had examined emotion and health in industrialized nations, but this study measures the connection between emotion and health in a wider range of countries. This study included a representative sample of 150,000 people in 142 countries who participated in the Gallup World Poll, which conducts surveys annually from about 1,000 individuals in more than 142 counties. The subjects of this research were 52.1 percent female and 47.9 percent male with ages ranging from 15 to 99, according to the study.

The researchers questioned the individuals on whether they had laughed or experienced enjoyment, love or happiness at some point during the day before. They then attempted to measure positive emotions of the participants by assessing their enjoyment, love, happiness, worry, sadness, stress, boredom, depression or anger the next day. They also assessed the physical health of the subjects and the degree to which their basic needs were met. The participants were also questioned on matters of security -- whether they felt safe walking home alone at night or if they had ever experienced robbery or assault.

The researchers also gathered average gross domestic products (GDPs) per capita in U.S. dollars from data in the 2005 U.N. Human Development Index.

Contrary to the beliefs of the researchers, the study found that health and positive emotions like enjoyment, love and happiness were stronger in countries with GDPs that were not particularly strong, and the association increased as GDPs decreased.

The average per capita GDP in Malawi is $900, where individuals show a better connection between health and positive emotion than citizens of the United States, where the per capita GDP is $49,800.

“We hope that by showing that this phenomenon is prevalent and stronger than some factors considered critical to wellness, more attention will be drawn to the importance of studying both positive and negative emotions,” Pressman said in the statement.

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