Aug. 28, 2008 -- If you're happy and you know it -- you are likely to be healthier over time.
A new study of 9,981 Australians found that people who report high happiness and life satisfaction are more likely a few years later to report good health. The study, published in The American Journal of Health Promotion, uses data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. Researchers compared happiness and satisfaction answers that participants gave in 2001 with their health responses in 2004.
To measure happiness, people were asked two multiple-choice questions: "During the past four weeks, have you been a happy person?" and "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?"
Three years later, health was measured in three ways: First, participants were asked, "In general, would you say your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?" Then they were asked. "Do you have any long-term health conditions, impairments, or disabilities that restrict you in everyday activities and have lasted or are likely to last six months or more?" Finally, they were given a score card, in which they were asked to answer yes or no to 17 health conditions, such as chronic pain or vision problems that are not corrected by glasses.
About 63% of people said they were happy most or all of the time. More than 90% claimed life satisfaction. Those people were significantly more likely to report good health a few years later. For example, those who were satisfied with life were 1.6 times as likely to report excellent, very good, or good health at follow-up.
"Everything else being equal, if you are happy and satisfied with your life now, you are more likely to be healthy in the future. Importantly, our results are independent of several factors that impact on health, such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and age," said lead author Mohammad Siahpush, PhD.
Siahpush is a professor of health promotion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
This research echoes prior studies on health and happiness that looked at specific groups. For instance, a study on nuns in the United States found that nuns who reported happiness, hope, and love in journals kept in their young adult years were likely to live longer.
Authors say that happiness, like economic status, should be considered a key health indicator. They also call for more study, including "developing and evaluating interventions to enhance subjective well-being."