We’ve all heard of dying of a broken heart, but could the opposite be true? Could happiness help us to live longer, healthier lives? A recent study suggests that subjective well-being (SWB) or ‘how individuals evaluate or appraise their own lives’ has an effect on our health and mortality.
The study considered the effect that positive and negative momentary ‘state’ emotions such as anger, stress, worry and enjoyment, and longer term moods such as contentment and depression have on our health and life expectancy.
Our well-being impacts on our ability to deal with stress, affecting our mental and physical health. Happiness can slow down disease progression by strengthening the immune system. It can reduce pain and inflammation, speed up wound healing, alter hormone levels and even make you live longer as happy people age better and have healthier cells.
Unhappiness, infection and influences
People who suffer from depression, anxiety or have negative thoughts about themselves are less likely to take good care of themselves. People with lower SWB are also more likely to die as a result of suicide and are less likely to be physically healthy, with higher stress levels. Self care behaviours such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and taking time to de-stress all impact upon positively our mental and physical health. People with depression are more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as alcohol abuse, unsafe sex and drug use.
Illness and infection affect our ability to take care of ourselves, which limits our autonomy and prevents us from carrying out our daily routines at work and home. The physical and mental effects of pain in sufferers of acute and chronic illnesses can trigger major depression. Illness can make us less healthy as well as happiness making us healthier.
It is worth mentioning that behavioural, genetic and physiological influences on health and lifespan can also affect subjective well-being. For example, those with higher incomes often benefit better access to medical care and nutrition as well as living a more comfortable lifestyle.
How can I live better and longer?
Whether your health is impacting on your happiness or your happiness on your health; finding fulfilling employment, reducing stress and anxiety levels and establishing and maintaining positive relationships have all been shown to improve subjective well-being.