Magazine article Science News

Look on the Bright Side and Survive Longer

Magazine article Science News

Look on the Bright Side and Survive Longer

Article excerpt

Brief autobiographies written more than 60 years ago by a group of then young Catholic nuns have now become a matter of life or death. Those nuns who chronicled positive emotions in their twenties have lived markedly longer than those who recounted emotionally neutral personal histories, a new study finds.

This result, which derives from a study group with unprecedented similarity in lifestyle and social status, supports earlier evidence that expressing happiness, interest, love, and other positive feelings enhances physical health, say psychologist Deborah D. Danner of the University of Kentucky in Lexington and her colleagues. The nuns were participating in a study on aging and Alzheimer's disease (SN: 5/18/96, p. 312).

"Our results should spur research into the poorly understood link between positive emotions and longevity," remarks study coauthor Wallace V. Friesen, also of Kentucky. "I never would have guessed this association is so strong."

Danner's team analyzed positive emotional content in life stories written by 180 nuns when they were, on average, 22 years old. The scientists then noted which nuns had since died and when.

Nuns whose stories contained the most sentences expressing any of 10 positive emotions lived an average of 7 years longer than those whose accounts included the fewest such sentences, the team reports in the May JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. The researchers also found that longevity increased by 9 1/2 years for nuns whose life stories contained the most words referring to positive emotions and by 10 1/2 years for nuns who used the greatest number of different positive-emotion words. …

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