Is Happiness the Secret to a Longer Life?
In just over 100 years, average life expectancy has risen from 47 to 80 years. The United Nations estimates that over the next century, women in developed countries could routinely live to be 100. Life expectancy for men falls short of that for women by a few years, but the gap is closing. The Office for National Statistics predicts an equal life expectancy for women and men by 2030.
Better medicine, sanitation and nutrition are three major reasons for longer life expectancies. But we’re also happier as we age, and according to research, that may be helping us live longer as well.
A recent study found that older people were less likely to die within five years if they reported being happy. More than 3,800 participants ages 52 to 79 were asked to record feelings of happiness, anxiety and other emotions and were then divided into three groups based on how happy they felt. Once researchers controlled for age, socioeconomic factors, chronic diseases and health behaviors, they found the happiest group was 35 percent less likely to have died and the middle group was 20 percent less likely to have died than the least happy group.
What can you do to help yourself stay happy as you age?
- Create the life you want. If something makes you happy, do it! Don’t let others try to tell you that you are too old for a new hobby or activity.
- Plan for your future. It’s easy to feel that your “best days” are behind you, but the exact opposite may be true. Look forward to what is yet to come.
- Keep active socially. Spend time with family and friends and get involved in community groups and activities. Don’t limit yourself to doing things with just people in your own age group.
- Accept what’s under your control. It’s helpful to recognize that you can’t change others, as well as most external circumstances and problems. What you can control is how you respond. Practice positive thinking.
- Take care of your health. See your doctor for regular checkups, take medications as prescribed and get recommended preventive screenings. Aim to be physically active every day and eat a healthy diet.
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Date Last Reviewed: March 15, 2018
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Eileen Engle, MD