Happiness Is Key To A Long And Healthy Life

Happy older people have a 19 percent lower likelihood of dying compared to their less happy peers, scientists say.

AsianScientist (Sep. 12, 2018) – Happy older people live longer, according to researchers at Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Medical School. The study was published in Age and Ageing.

As populations around the world age, research on methods to improve the health of the elderly is becoming increasingly important. While previous studies have linked happiness or positive emotions with a range of better health outcomes, the evidence on how happiness affects longevity has been inconclusive.

Many of these studies do initially observe that happiness is associated with a lower likelihood of dying. However, this association disappears once differences in demographic, lifestyle and health factors are taken into consideration.

In the present study, the researchers analyzed data for 4,478 participants of a nationally-representative survey to look at the association between happiness (assessed in the year 2009) and subsequent likelihood of dying due to any cause (recorded before 31 December 2015). The survey was focused on individuals aged 60 years and older living in Singapore.

Happiness was assessed by asking the survey participants how often in the past week they experienced the following: ‘I felt happy’, ‘I enjoyed life’ and ‘I felt hope about the future’. Their responses were considered in two distinct ways; a ‘happiness score’, and a ‘binary happiness variable—Happy/Unhappy’. A wide range of demographics, lifestyle choices, health and social factors were accounted for in the analysis.

The researchers found that among happy older people, 15 percent passed away, in contrast to the 20 percent who died in the group defined as ‘less happy.’ Every increase of one point on the happiness score lowered the chance of dying by an additional nine percent. The likelihood of dying due to any cause was 19 percent lower for happy older people. Furthermore, the inverse association of happiness with mortality was consistently present among men and women, as well as among the young-old (aged 60-79 years) and the old-old (aged 75 years or older).

“The findings indicate that even small increments in happiness may be beneficial to older people’s longevity,” Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra of NUS explained. “Therefore, individual-level activities as well as government policies and programs that maintain or improve happiness or psychological well-being may contribute to a longer life among older people.”

This is one of the few Asian studies to have assessed the association between happiness and mortality among older people, while accounting for several social factors, such as loneliness and social network. The researchers suggest that these findings may be generalized in non-Western populations.

The article can be found at: Chei et al. (2018) Happy Older People Live Longer.


Source: National University of Singapore; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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