It seems only common sense that happiness should be good for our physical health, but psychological research has sent mixed signals in recent years. Some studies have found it is, while others have found no effect, and some even a negative effect.
In a new article published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, Professor Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University offers a possible solution to this question. In reviewing 30 studies, he finds that the neutral and negative findings for the effects of happiness on health are in studies on people who were ill at the time.
In comparison, studies on people who were in good health do find a strong positive effect for happiness on health. Professor Veenhoven suggests that happiness may not have a beneficial effect on the physical health of those who are ill, but it does help prevent people falling ill in the first place.
A particularly spectacular study on nuns found that those who were happiest in early life lived 10 years longer than those who were unhappy. Another study of 660 inhabitants of Ohio found that higher levels of happiness translated, on average, into 7.5 years more life.
How to be happy
What happiness is and where it comes from are very personal, but there are some general principles starting to emerge from the area of positive psychology. Here are a few previous articles on happiness from PsyBlog:
- Why sustainable happiness is all about the day-to-day.
- What Confucius had to say about how to be happy.
- The dangers of materialism.
Here are the rest of my articles on the new science of happiness.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.