Scientists are still exploring and debating when happiness most affects health, but there is no doubt it can do so.
In the most comprehensive review to date of studies on subjective well-being, a team of researchers conclude there is a connection between happiness and health in some instances — from better wound healing and immune system function to emotional resilience. The researchers say what’s needed now is more work to unravel when, how and what types of subjective well-being are most influential.
“We now have to take very seriously the finding that happy people are healthier and live longer and that chronic unhappiness can be a true health threat,” said Ed Diener, a University of Utah psychology professor and lead author. “People’s feelings of well-being join other known factors for health, such as not smoking and getting exercise.”
The review appears in the July issue of Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Co-authors are Sarah Pressman, John Hunter and Desi Chase of the University of California at Irvine. The studies reviewed range from large meta-analyses — one looked at 485 studies of ties between job satisfaction and subjective health — to single studies on such topics as whether there is an association between life satisfaction and longevity.
“Scores of studies show that our levels of happiness versus stress and depression can influence our cardiovascular health, our immune system strength to fight off diseases and our ability to heal from injuries,” said Diener, who has studied happiness for more than 35 years and coined the term “subjective well-being” to describe a person’s evaluation of how his or her life is going and their emotional state.
The case is strong enough for a health influence that health care practitioners should add happiness assessments to routine questions about such behaviors as exercise, diet and smoking, Diener said.