Older people who are happy have a 35% smaller chance of dying if they are content, excited or happy on a typical day, researchers from University College London wrote in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. The authors stressed that this greater likelihood of living longer held true even after taking into account such factors as the person’s financial situation, and their physical and mental health.

Lead author, Andrew Steptoe, Ph.D., said:

“We had expected that we might see a link between how happy people felt over the day and their future mortality, but we were struck by how strong the effect was.”

Steptoe and team asked 3,800 individuals aged between 52 and 79 to write down how they felt at four different times during a single day. Unlike prior studies that focused on lifespan and happiness, this one did not rely on how well participants could remember a certain period in their lives, which are often inaccurate. In this study, they were writing down how they felt at that moment.

The participants were divided into three groups:

  • The happiest group
  • The middle group
  • The least happy group

There were some slight differences in smoking status, wealth and age, the authors report. Otherwise, they were comparable as far as overall health, employment status, education and ethnic makeup were concerned.

Five years later, the authors found that:

  • 3.6% of those in the happiest group had died
  • 4.6% of those in the middle group had died
  • 7.3% of those in the least happy group had died

Those in the happiest group were 35% less likely to have died compared to those in the least happy group. This was after taking into account several factors which could distorted the results, such as chronic disease, physical activity, alcohol intake, depression and age.

My Grandfather Photo from January 17
A smiling 95-year old Chilean man from Pchilemu

The authors explained that their findings indicate that experienced levels of happiness (“personal affects”) are linked to survival chances that are not caused by variables such as health status, etc.

The authors wrote in an abstract in the journal:

“Momentary PA (personal affect) may be causally related to survival, or may be a marker of underlying biological, behavioral, or temperamental factors, although reverse causality cannot be conclusively ruled out. The results endorse the value of assessing experienced affect, and the importance of evaluating interventions that promote happiness in older populations.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist