Does Happiness Lead to Success? Part 3: Health

This series is discussing the idea that not only does success bring happiness, but happiness also brings success.  Previously, we found that happiness helps people to have better careers and better relationships.  Today, we’ll see that they also have better health, too.

The authors of the paper put the question this way: “Is happiness associated with superior physical and mental health?”  I like the sound of that!  Superior physical and mental health – that has a nice ring to it, that’s definitely something I want.  In fact, that’s what I want on my gravestone: “Here lies Warren Davies. Had superior physical and mental health.”

As with the previous two articles, I’ll show some of the findings from cross-sectional/correlational studies first (comparing happiness with health at one point in time):

Mental Health and Happiness

  • Happier people have fewer symptoms of psychopathology (eg., depression or schizophrenia)
  • The absence of positive emotion is a distinguishing feature of depression
  • Happier people are less likely to suffer from social anxiety or phobia
  • Happy people are less likely to use drugs
  • Unhappy teens are more likely to show delinquent behaviour

Physical Health and Happiness

  • Happy people have smaller allergic reactions
  • In one study, positive mood was associated with fewer visits to the hospital, less medication use, and other positive outcomes in people with sickle cell disease
  • Optimism is associated with less pain in ageing war veterans
  • Optimistic women are less likely to deliver low-birth weight babies

Just like before, the above findings can only tell us that “happiness” and “superior physical and mental health” tend to occur together in people.  They can’t tell us what causes what, because measurements were only taken at one point in time.  Plus the mental health findings are pretty obvious – no one’s getting a Nobel Prize for those discoveries!

So, here are the longitudinal study findings to save the day (studies trying to find out if more happiness now means better health later):

  • Happiness measures taken from 5,000 people were reliable predictors of how many days were missed due to illness, and days spent in hospital, over the next five years
  • People with higher positive mood had lower incidences of stroke 6 years later
  • Happy hockey players experience fewer sports-related injuries over the ensuing season
  • Happier people were found to be less likely to die in automobile accidents (!)

There are a few more findings, but you get the point.  No doubt good health is a source of happiness, but interestingly, happiness is a source of good health and a long life too.  I’ll look at the reasons this might be in the next article, but it appears there are both direct and indirect effects.

So now you know the different ways that happiness can improve your success in life, as well as the the other way around.  Generally speaking, happier people do better at work, earn more, have more friends, are luckier in love, and enjoy better health.

In the next article we’ll look at how happiness is thought to bring these benefits. By the way, you can find more info on health and happiness here.

This series was based on the below paper published in Psychological Bulletin by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Deiner – three big names in positive psychology.  It was a huge effort, they analysed 225 studies with over 275,000 participants in total!  All three researchers have books out so if you like the stuff in these articles, stick their names into Amazon and see if there’s something you like!

Apart from the side-splitting humour, all the points in this article came from this reference.  If you’re looking for the original studies, get the pdf of the above reference and do a Ctrl+F (or Apple+F) to search for the finding you’re looking for.  Then find the study in their reference list.

Recommended Reading:


References: (1) Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Deiner, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131/6, 803–855

1 Comment

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