Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Prolong your life – by being well!

Tons of literature have been published on how we can live longer and maintain a good health. TV ads praise a large scope of products claiming to help us in attaining both. But what if we could save the money we spend on all of these products and become healthier and live longer simply by... being well?


Ed Diener from the University of Illinois and Micaela Y. Chan from the University of Texas reviewed a large number of studies investigating the effect of subjective well-being (SWB) on health and longevity. Subjective well-being refers to people’s evaluations of their lives, e.g. their life satisfaction, moods or emotions.

Subjective well-being, according to almost all of the studies reviewed, predicts longevity in healthy populations. Especially positive affect seems to have a great impact on longevity. But not only that: People who rate themselves high in SWB are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Some studies even found that happy individuals are less likely to fall sick with cancer. The immune system seems to work better in healthy individuals, and a large number of other health indicators is better when people are well. The findings have been replicated across different nations such as the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, and Taiwan.

However, it is controversial whether people who are already suffering from a disease also profit from SWB in that their chances of surviving the disease are improved. Some studies found it to be like that, others did not. But people high in SWB recover from serious diseases more quickly than those who are less happy.

The authors reviewed not only longitudinal studies associating SWB and health, but also studies investigating the interrelationship between SWB and physiological indicators such as blood pressure. They also included experiments and animal studies into their review.

The original article can be found here.

So being well and happy is good for your health and prolongs your life. What can you do in order to become happier. Well established methods are, for example, the three blessings exercise that we described only recently here, or mediation, also outlined here. In general, experiencing more positive emotions is a good way of improving SWB. Barbara L. Fredrickson has done extensive research on the topic. You can also find a short interview with her in a previous post.

So being happier is not only beneficial because it feels good, but also because it improves your health and longevity!

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