Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity
Seven types of evidence are reviewed that indicate that high subjective well-being (such as life satisfaction, absence of negative emotions, optimism, and positive emotions) causes better health and longevity. For example, prospective longitudinal studies of normal populations provide evidence that various types of subjective well-being such as positive affect predict health and longevity, controlling for health and socioeconomic status at baseline. Combined with experimental human and animal research, as well as naturalistic studies of changes of subjective well-being and physiological processes over time, the case that subjective well-being influences health and longevity in healthy populations is compelling. However, the claim that subjective well-being lengthens the lives of those with certain diseases such as cancer remains controversial. Positive feelings predict longevity and health beyond negative feelings. However, intensely aroused or manic positive affect may be detrimental to health. Issues such as causality, effect size, types of subjective well-being, and statistical controls are
discussed. When people list the key characteristics of a good life, they are likely to include happiness, health, and longevity. Similarly, scholars such as Edgerton (1992) define good cultures as those in which health and happiness flourish. In this paper we describe the evidence that subjective well-being (SWB) causally affects health and longevity. Interventions to raise SWB, as well as the theories that explain why SWB affects physiology, are beyond the page limitations and scope of this review.We describe the evidence that indicates that SWB causally influences both health and longevity. Subjective well-being refers to people’s evaluations of their lives, which can be judgments such as life satisfaction, evaluations based on feelings, including moods and emotions. When people feel a sad mood or a joyful emotion it is because they feel their lives are going badly or well. Thus, SWB is a heterogeneous category that includes diverse phenomena ranging from optimism to low anger to work satisfaction. Through most of the paper we review measures of diverse SWB concepts together as though they have similar effects on health, and only occasionally mention when these effects diverge. The reason we combine the different types of SWB is that rarely have there been studies that differentiate and assess multiple types of SWB. Thus, we are not able to draw strong conclusions about which specific types of feelings are most related to health. Evidence has accumulated to show that positive and negative feelings have independent effects, but in most cases we have only a rudimentary understanding of how SWB concepts overlap or are independent in their effects on health. In a later section of the paper we describe the research that is needed to more finely dissect how various types of
SWB influence health.Early research on SWB and health established a correlation between the two. But because the studies were largely cross-sectional, often with small samples of convenience, it was impossible to determine the causal direction between SWB and health. However, there are now a number of converging lines of evidence based on diverse methodologies supporting the conclusion that SWB influences health and longevity: 1 Long-term prospective studies in which participants are followed over time, and initial levels of SWB are related to later health and longevity. These studies are most powerful when baseline levels of health are controlled, and socioeconomic status (SES) is often controlled as well. Survival in ill populations has been studied, as well as morbidity and mortality in initially healthy populations. – 2 Studies in which natural levels of SWB are related to specific physiological processes that can affect health and longevity, as well as studies where changes in SWB are related to changes in physiological measures. – 3 Studies in which moods and emotions are experimentally manipulated, and effects on physiological variables that could affect health are assessed. – 4 Animal studies in which there is experimental control over the environment of the animals, and physiological and health measures are assessed in animals likely to differ in SWB, for example, in stress. – 5 Quasi-experimental studies in natural settings, in which natural events can be examined for their effects on health outcomes. – 6 Experimental intervention studies in which treatments are administered that can influence people’s long-term SWB. The treatment groups are compared to control groups in terms of both SWB and physiological
measures. – 7 Studies on how quality of life factors such as pain and mobility are related to SWB.We describe examples of each of the types of evidence, as well as discuss issues such as causality, effect size, methodological rigor, whether too much happiness can be detrimental to health, and whether there is a threshold effect for SWB. We focus on large-scale recent research, as well as studies that are diverse in the populations they sample and initial health-status. We describe a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses that are available in specific areas, which provide more complete summaries of certain topics. Diener, E. and Chan, M. Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x. Correspondence: Ed Diener, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, USA. – Edward Diener (born 1946) is an American psychologist, professor, and author. He is noted for his research over the past twenty-five years on happiness — the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being. For his fundamental research on the subject, Diener is nicknamed Dr. Happiness. He has worked with researchers Daniel Kahneman and Martin Seligman — and he is a senior scientist for the Gallup Organization. Diener was born in 1946 in Glendale, California and grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California. His wife, Carol and three of his children are psychologists. He attended San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno and
subsequently received his B.A. in Psychology in 1968 from California State University at Fresno. He received his doctorate at the University of Washington in 1974 and was a faculty member at the University of Illinois for 34 years, retiring from active teaching in 2008.He holds the Smiley chair, the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology, at the University of Illinois. In 2010 he received honorary doctorates from the Free University of Berlin and Eureka College. He has won the distinguished scientist award from the International Society of Quality of Life Studies, as well as the Jack Block award for outstanding contributions to personality psychology. In 2002, Diener conducted a study at the University of Illinois with Martin Seligman, finding that “the most salient characteristics shared by the 10% of students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression were their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.”Diener has said “It is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy.” Diener’s research showed that once a person’s “basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life. According to Diener, two events in a persons life with the greatest impact were shown to be loss of a spouse (taking 5-8 years for recovery) and loss of a job.To facilitate happiness research, Diener created the Satisfaction with Life Scale, a basic and widely used tool. Sources: Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being & University of Illinois.
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