Study: Happiness does not affect mortality

Dec 10, 2015, 4:17 PM EST
Source: daveynin/flickr
Source: daveynin/flickr

A study published in the medical journal Lancet has found that there is no connection between happiness and longevity. The study is based on questionnaires from more than 715,000 British women aged 50 to 69 who were enrolled in a national breast cancer screening program in the late 1990s. Looking at death rates of women who answered that they were unhappy versus women who said they were happy, the researchers found no connection between happiness and long life. The death rates were equal between the two groups. The New York Times writes:

“Good news for the grumpy” is one way to interpret the findings, said Sir Richard Peto, an author of the study and a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford.

He and his fellow researchers decided to look into the subject because, he said, there is a widespread belief that stress and unhappiness cause disease.

Such beliefs can fuel a tendency to blame the sick for bringing ailments on themselves by being negative, and to warn the well to cheer up or else.

“Believing things that aren’t true isn’t a good idea,” Professor Peto said in an interview. “There are enough scare stories about health.”

The Washington Post reports:

At the beginning of the study, those who perceived they had poor health were much more likely to report unhappiness — a link that had been found in previous studies and that is consistent with popular perception about the link between your body's well-being and your mind's. Unhappiness was associated with smoking, lack of exercise and not living with a partner.

Here's what the happy group look like: They were older, had fewer educational qualifications, were doing strenuous exercise, were non-smokers, living with a partner and participating in religious or other group activities. They were also more likely to get a lot of sleep. The researchers reported that "the relation between happiness and the number of hours of sleep was J-shaped, with women reporting about 8 h sleep most likely to be generally happy."

But during 10 years of follow up, things didn't progress as might be expected.

The 4 percent or nearly 32,000 of the women who died were not unhappier than the rest. Neither were they more stressed or felt like they had less control over their lives.

CBS News adds:

In an accompanying commentary, French scientists suggested that the results might not be the same in men, since "men and women probably define happiness differently." The researchers said the latest paper was the biggest-ever to evaluate happiness and noted it accounted for potential confounding factors. Some previous studies among older adults have found that women were grumpier than men.