Happiness and Well-Being May Extend Life Span

Risk of death was lower in people who reported sense of control and purpose in life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Past research has found that depression and stress can shorten patients' life spans. But can happiness and life satisfaction extend them?

Researchers have recently begun to look at whether being happy can make patients more likely to live longer. The authors of a new study found that patients who felt a sense of life purpose and control were more likely to live longer than patients who didn't.

The authors of the study said that, in addition to focusing on disease treatment and prevention, doctors should help patients improve their mental well-being.

Andrew Steptoe, PhD, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, led the study.

Dr. Steptoe and colleagues studied 9,050 English people who were 65 years old on average. They asked the patients to complete a survey to measure their sense of eudemonic well-being. Eudemonic well-being relates to a patient's sense of control and purpose in life. It also includes the feeling that what that person does is worthwhile.

The study authors divided the patients into four categories, ranked from highest to lowest well-being. They followed up with the patients for an average of 8.5 years. During the study period, 1,542 of the patients died.

In the lowest category of well-being, 29 percent of the patients died. In the highest well-being category, however, only 9 percent died.

Overall, people with the highest sense of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period. Those in the highest well-being group lived an average of two years longer than those in the lowest well-being group.

Dr. Steptoe and team also collected data on factors that could influence both well-being and health. These included age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, exercise and alcohol intake.

"We have previously found that happiness is associated with a lower risk of death … There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure," Dr. Steptoe said in a press release. "Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people."

Overall life satisfaction may also affect how long patients live, the study authors noted. Life satisfaction and other aspects of well-being like feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, stress and pain can affect life span.

The study authors also studied international survey data that focused on happiness and well-being. They found that, in high-income, English-speaking countries, life satisfaction was lower during middle age and higher during old age.

People from other countries or regions may have very different results, Dr. Steptoe and colleagues found. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, older people had much lower rankings of life satisfaction than those who were younger. In sub-Saharan Africa, life satisfaction was low for people of all ages.

This study was published online Nov. 6 in The Lancet.

The National Institute on Aging and the UK Office for National Statistics funded the study. Two study authors were consulting senior scientists with Gallup, which provided some data used in the research.

Review Date: 
November 6, 2014
Last Updated:
November 7, 2014