Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Be happy!

Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill. As a result, happy people live longer. The size of the effect on longevity is comparable to that of smoking or not

We need to reflect on this. As I have pointed out often, psychological outlook and an avoidance of stress is a really important element to health. When I was growing up my parents' career guidance to me was - "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you are happy." That may sound shallow, but maybe it was a very healthy and wise thing to say.

Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care

Is happiness good for your health? This common notion is tested in a synthetic analysis of 30 follow-up studies on happiness and longevity. It appears that happiness does not predict longevity in sick populations, but that it does predict longevity among healthy populations So, happiness does not cure illness but it does protect against becoming ill. The effect of happiness on longevity in healthy populations is remarkably strong. The size of the effect is comparable to that of smoking or not.
If so, public health can also be promoted by policies that aim at greater happiness of a greater number. That can be done by strengthening individual life-abilities and by improving the livability of the social environment. Some policies are proposed. Both ways of promoting health through happiness require more research on conditions for happiness.


Stephan said...

Hi Chris,

I've always wondered about these types of studies. They're really just identifying associations. Happier people tend to die less. But maybe they're happy for the same reasons they're dying less, i.e. neurological differences, metabolic differences, income level etc.

Seems like it would be hard to tease these things apart. You'd need an intervention trial, which I'm not sure would be feasible for something like happiness. Although there are some interesting intervention trials on meditation.

For the record, I do think psychological factors affect health. I just wish we had a more definitive way of getting at the effects.

Chris said...


You are right about association rather than causation.

Have you read Malcolm Kendrick's Great Cholesterol Con. After demolishing the lipid hypothesis he makes a convincing argument that stress and its effect on the HPA axis is the cause (maybe association again) of heart disease and much else.

I think he makes the same points on the video here

Stephan said...


I haven't read that, thanks for the info.

Rannoch Donald RKC said...

thanks for this post Chris.

No questions, this is a very difficult area to quantify with hard science.

What can't be denied is that a life well lived is it's own reward.

I'm not sure the value of longevity with out contenement.