Does Being Happy Make You Live Longer?

Does Being Happy Make You Live Longer?

They’re calling it “good news for the grumpy.” A December 2015 study published in The Lancet has shown no link between being unhappy and dying early. The study, which followed more than 700,000 UK women (average age 59) did find that poor health causes unhappiness, but it doesn’t work the other way around: being unhappy in and of itself doesn’t make you sick.

The researchers asked study participants to complete a questionnaire regarding their health, degree of happiness, stress level, and whether they felt relaxed and in control of their lives. They then followed up with them 10 years later. During the 10-year follow-up 4% of the participants had died. The researchers then looked at the happiness levels of those who had died, factoring in health data (such as high blood pressure, diabetes and depression) and lifestyle factors (such as smoking) that existed when the questionnaires were first completed.

The researchers didn’t find a discrepancy in mortality rates: Those who reported poor health at the outset were generally less happy than those in good health. But those who were unhappy at the outset had no increased risk of dying from all causes, cancer or heart disease.

“It’s not really a surprise,” says Keith Roach, MD, Sharecare’s chief medical officer and co-creator of the RealAge Test. “Happiness means different things to different people.”

One of the major limitations of the study, aside from the study subjects being all women, is that the happiness metrics are self-reported: That can affect findings since people may not report honestly.

Still, the findings correlate to factors used to predict longevity in the RealAge Test. “The rock-solid evidence, which we used in the RealAge Test, has to do with optimism vs. cynicism, a locus of control (feeling you have the ability to take charge of your own destiny)--which also predicts a good outcome compared with those who feel no sense of control--and with major depression, which is very bad for your long-term health,” says Dr. Roach. “These are all separate from self-described stress.”

While it stands to reason that a person who is unhealthy may not feel on top of the world, whether or not you’re happy doesn’t appear to have a direct impact on longevity. “It’s more important to feel a sense of control, be optimistic and get depression treated if present than it is to have a sense of ‘happiness,’” says Roach. Knowing that might just make you a little happier.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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