Happiness Promotes Health Even if you're a couch potato, a smoker or an ailing senior, your level of happiness today will likely influence your level of health a few years down the road, a research investigation suggests.
"Everything else being equal, if you are happy and satisfied with your life now, you are more likely to be healthy in the future," said Mohammad Siahpush, a professor of health promotion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "Importantly, our results are independent of several factors that impact on health, such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption and age."
Siahpush is lead author of a recent study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. His team analyzed data from an Australian health-condition study that surveyed close to 10,000 people in 2001, and which then did a follow-up in 2004.
Among their questions, the Australians asked, "During the past four weeks, have you been a happy person?" to evaluate happiness. They also asked, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?" to determine subjects' contentment. "We found strong evidence that both happiness and life satisfaction have an effect on our indicators of health," Siahpush said.
Happiness and contentment with life were both associated with: 1) good or better-than-average health; 2) the lack of long-term health problems and 3) better health three years afterward. Paul Hershberger, a professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, found the most impressive aspect of the study to be how the researchers isolated the happiness and contentment variables from all of the other elements that affect future health.
"Their unique contribution is the short, three-year time period of their study," he said. "To my knowledge, this the shortest time I've seen where looking at baseline happiness predicts future health. It is compelling to me that measuring someone's happiness now accounts for some differences in physical health in as little as three years."