Happy People Live Longer & Have Better Health

Earlier this year researchers Drs. Ed Diener and Micaela Chan published a comprehensive review of the scientific literature examining the association between subjective well being (SWB; the research term for happiness), longevity (as in length of time someone is alive) and health. To get an electronic reprint of the study click here. In this blog entry I will summarize some of their findings and suggest one evidence based strategy to promote happiness.

In considering the positive and significant association between longevity and SWB the researchers reviewed 26 longitudinal studies (a study that follows subjects over an extended period of time, usually decades). These studies cumulatively examined 316,911 individuals. In the “Take-Home Message” portion of the article the researchers write: “If high SWB adds 4 to 10 years to life compared to low SWB, this is an outcome worthy of national attention.”

In considering the positive and significant association between health and SWB the researchers reviewed 17 longitudinal studies; these studies cumulatively studied 121,096 people. Quoting the researchers: “…moods and emotions are consistently…associated with…blood pressure, cortisol, and inflammation, as well as indicators of disease such as artery wall thickening…(this) occurs in addition to the effects of negative feelings and depression, suggesting that positive affect may have distinctive biological correlates that can benefit health.”

There are many things adults can do to promote happiness. For instance, in an earlier blog entry I described a family exercise involving writing gratitude letters. Another strategy is to practice acts of kindness as the “helper’s high” is scientifically validated phenomenon. To do this make one day a week your kindness day (maybe one that has traditionally been a struggle). Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

• Write a thank you note to a person who cleans a space that you routinely traverse.

• Leave some money at a drive through for the customer behind you.

• Take out an add in a local newspaper recognizing a teacher’s excellent service.

• Stick a couple of movie passes in a package of diapers at your local grocery store with a note “I know it’s tiring to take care of a baby. Please use these to lighten the load some night. A friend who has been there.”

• Spend an hour volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

• Put coins in strangers’ meter that looks like it could use it.

• Give blood.

• Invite someone with young kids with her or him to cut you in line at the grocery store.

• Leave a note of appreciation for your mail carrier’s service.

• Bring a box of baked goods in for the office at your child’s school.

I review other ideas for acts of kindness in my book Working Parents,
Thriving Families: 10 Strategies that Make a Difference
. I’d also very much like to hear ideas from you, my reader 😉

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