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Being happy makes you live longer, report claims

‘People who don't experience much enjoyment are linked with higher mortality,’ study says  

Robert Trafford
Wednesday 14 December 2016 00:45
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Sustained happiness in older age is linked to a longer life, a study has found.

The report, by the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) at University College, London (UCL), claims that over-50s who experience feelings of satisfaction about their life are more likely to live to an older age.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, contradict those of a major study released a year ago, which found no link between happiness and long life.

At the time, Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, said that “happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates.”

But the Director of the ELSA, Professor Andrew Steptoe, is confident in their results, and says the study is different from previous efforts because it examines a person's happiness over time, not just at one point in time, when the results “could be dependent on all sorts of circumstances.”

Older studies, he said, “used a very basic measure of happiness - ‘how happy are you? - on one occasion.”

To really understand how happiness affects you in your old age, he said, “you need these more detailed measures, focused on issues around wellbeing”.

The ELSA report asked four questions across a range of topics, on three separate occasions between 2002 and 2006. The questions covered a participant’s family life, social circle and their working life. It found the more participants claimed to have experienced “sustained wellbeing” over time, the lower their risk of death.

A quarter of participants in the study said that they experienced “no high levels of enjoyment of life” any of the three times they were asked. “These people never enjoy the things they do, or they rarely enjoy them,” Mr Steptoe said.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “It’s good news that maintaining a positive outlook can help us live longer, but it's sad that this report shows nearly a quarter of older people feel they have no enjoyment in their day to day life. We know that a chronic lack of social care support is making life a misery for millions of older people and more than 1.2 million older people are lonely. These issues have a major impact on people’s life expectancy as well as their happiness."

The study involved 9,365 participants, 1,310 of whom died during the study’s follow-up period. Compared with those who said they experience “no levels of high enjoyment,” there was a 17% reduction in overall mortality for those who said they experienced two such levels of satisfaction over the four years, and a 24% reduction for those who said they experienced three.

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