It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle: Healthy people might be happier, and a new study shows that people who are happy and satisfied with their lives might be healthier.
Moreover, the benefit comes with a quick turnaround time, with greater happiness possibly boosting health in as little as three years.
“Everything else being equal, if you are happy and satisfied with your life now, you are more likely to be healthy in the future. Importantly, our results are independent of several factors that impact on health, such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption and age,” said lead author Mohammad Siahpush, Ph.D.
Siahpush is a professor of health promotion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
The researchers looked at data from two waves of an Australian survey conducted in 2001 and 2004. Nearly 10,000 adults responded to items about health indicators including the presence of long-term, limiting health conditions and physical health. They used the question, “During the past four weeks, have you been a happy person?” to assess happiness. They determined satisfaction with life by asking: “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?”
“We found strong evidence that both happiness and life satisfaction have an effect on our indicators of health,” Siahpush said.
Happiness and life satisfaction at the baseline survey were both associated with (1) excellent, good or very good health; (2) the absence of long-term, limiting health concerns and (3) higher levels of physical health three years later.
In addition, the results suggested that improving happiness or life satisfaction might also result in better future health.
“There are indications that as you become happier and more satisfied with your life, you tend to become healthier as well,” Siahpush said.
Paul Hershberger, Ph.D., a professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, said he found it interesting that the researchers were able to isolate happiness and life satisfaction out of all of the other factors that can influence future health. Hershberger was unaffiliated with the study.
“Their unique contribution is the short, three-year time period of their study,” he said. “To my knowledge, this the shortest time I’ve seen where looking at baseline happiness predicts future health. It is compelling to me that measuring someone’s happiness now accounts for some differences in physical health in as little as three years.”
- Siahpush, M, Spittal M, Singh GJ. Happiness and life satisfaction prospectively predict self-rated health, physical health, and the presence of limiting, long-term health conditions. American Journal of Health Promotion, 23(1), 2008
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