Newspaper article

Good News for Scrooges: Happiness Has No Effect on Longevity, Study Finds

Newspaper article

Good News for Scrooges: Happiness Has No Effect on Longevity, Study Finds

Article excerpt

If you have a naturally grumpy disposition, then here's some news that's sure to put a smile on your face (if only temporarily): A new study from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom has found that happiness is not associated with living a longer life, as previous research has frequently suggested.

That earlier research confused cause and effect, say the authors of the new study. "Our findings show that unhappiness is associated with poor health mainly because poor health causes unhappiness," they write, "and partly because unhappiness is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking. After adjustment for these factors, no robust evidence remains that unhappiness or stress increase mortality or that being happy, relaxed, or in control reduces mortality."

Or, as lead author Bette Liu, an epidemiologist who is now at the University of New South Wales in Australia, put it in a released statement: "Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn't make you ill."

Study details

For the study, which was published this week in The Lancet, Liu and her colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 700,000 British women, aged 55 to 63, who had been recruited into the University of Oxford's Million Women Study between 1996 and 2001. At the time they entered the study, none had been diagnosed with a serious health problem, such as cancer, heart disease or emphysema.

Each of the participants filled out a questionnaire that asked them, among other things, "How often do you feel happy?" According to the responses, 39 percent of the women said they were happy "most of the time," 44 percent stated they were "usually" happy, and 17 percent indicated they were unhappy (happy only "sometimes" or "rarely/never").

An analysis of those answers revealed that women were more likely to report being happy if they were older, physically active, and not economically deprived, and if they did not smoke, got adequate sleep (but not too much), had a partner, and either belonged to a religious group or participated in social activities.

The women who reported being unhappy were more likely to say they were in poor health.

Key findings

All the women were followed for an average of 9. …

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