Be happy. Live longer.

No, it’s not that simple, but new research says happy lives are longer — by 35%.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that those who reported feeling happiest had a 35% reduced risk of dying compared with those who reported feeling least happy.

Rather than rely on recollections about their feelings of happiness as in earlier studies, this British study of 3,853 participants ages 52-79 rated their feelings at different times on one particular day. Five years later, researchers recorded the number who died and controlled for a variety of factors, including age, gender, health, wealth, education and marital status.

This approach “gets closer to measuring how people actually feel” rather than relying on recollections or general questions about well-being, says epidemiologist Andrew Steptoe, a psychology professor at University College in London, who co-authored the study.

How happy a person is at any point in time, he says, is a product of “some background disposition; some people tend to be happier than others,” but also “what they are doing, who they are with, and other features of that point in time. Both are important.”

“It’s perfectly true that someone’s happiness over a single day will be affected by what happens to them over that period,” Steptoe says. “However, survey experts and psychologists have come to the view that in many ways, this is a better approach to understanding how people actually feel than asking them general questions about how happy they are. Responses to general questions are influenced strongly by personality, by what people think they ‘ought’ to say and by recollections that might not be quite accurate,” Steptoe says.

What’s not clear, he says, is whether happy feelings are the key to longevity or if it’s something else that causes extended life. “We can’t draw the kind of final conclusion that the happiness is leading directly to better survival,” he says.

Others who have done research in this area but haven’t read the study say this link between a one-day measure and mortality is important.

“The fact that positive emotions in one day predicted survival is pretty amazing,” saysSonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

“We do know that happiness is associated with an extended life span,” she says. If we can get people to be happier, would that extend the lifespan? We don’t know that yet. Future research can definitely try to show that.”

Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Stony Brook University in New York, who has used measurements over the course of a day in his research, says the fact that the researchers “got a relationship with mortality means that the relationship must be fairly robust because they only had 3,800 people and they were only measuring the one day.”

And what if some who were measured on that one day were just having a bad day?

“A ‘bad day’ should weaken the relationship,” Stone says. “What it’s saying is there are enough people here that people having odd days didn’t really matter very much. Some people had bad days and some had good days. If they had been able to measure several days with these techniques, one would guess that the relationship would be even stronger.”

Laura Kubzansky, an associate professor in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, at Harvard’s School of Public Health in Boston, says there’s a “burgeoning body of work that suggests positive psychological functioning benefits health,” and this study is significant because it “adds to the arsenal.”

“It could say to people, you should take your mood seriously,” Kubzansky says. “I think people sort of undervalue emotional life anyway. This highlights the idea that if you are going through a period where you’re consistently distressed, it’s probably worth paying attention to how you feel — it matters for both psychological and physical health.”

This study asked participants to rate how happy, excited and content they felt at four points during a single day — 7 a.m., 7 p.m. and a half-hour after each. They used a rating scale from 1 (“not at all”) to 4 (“extremely”).

“Generally, they were less happy when they woke up and most happy at 7 p.m.,” Steptoe says.

Read full article here: Source – USA Today