Unhappiness may lead to bad choices, but it probably won't kill you

Study: No Connection Between Happiness and Longevity

Even though poor health is a known cause of unhappiness, and bad lifestyle choices often follow bad moods, misery alone probably won't kill you, a U.K. study suggests.

"We found that after accounting for poor health and other lifestyle choices, being happier doesn't make you live longer, and being stressed doesn't increase your risk of death," lead study author Bette Liu of the University of New South Wales said by email.

To explore the connection between unhappiness and the likelihood of dying, Liu and her colleagues looked at data on more than 700,000 middle-aged women collected over more than a decade. At the start, when the women were around 59 years old, 17 percent reported being unhappy, and this was more likely in women who were in poor health.

During the next ten years, about 31,500 women died, representing about 4 percent of the study population.

After researchers adjusted for a host of factors independently linked to mortality - like hypertension, diabetes, smoking, drinking, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety - mere unhappiness wasn't associated with increased mortality from all causes, or specifically from cancer or heart disease.

The data was collected from 1996 to 2001. When they joined the study, and again every 3 to 5 years, women completed questionnaires asking about social and demographic factors, lifestyle choices and health.

At the start of the study, 39 percent said they were happy most of the time, and another 43 percent described themselves as usually happy. Researchers counted as "unhappy" the 16 percent of women who were happy only sometimes and the 1 percent who said this was a rare occurrence.

Over time, few women changed their assessment of their own happiness levels, the researchers report in The Lancet.

Generally, the happy women in the study were older, less likely to have advanced degrees and more likely to be nonsmokers as well as regular exercisers with steady romantic relationships who routinely participated in religious or other group activities. These happy women were also more likely to get eight hours of sleep each night.

In contrast, the unhappy women were more likely to report only fair or poor general health and to be in treatment for depression or anxiety, the study found.

Women were 20 percent more likely to die during the study if they reported being in fair or poor health.

There is no perfect way to measure happiness, the authors concede. Unhappiness might, however, lead people to do things known to hasten death like drink too much or exercise too little, they speculate.

"Previous reports of reduced mortality associated with happiness could be due to the increased mortality of people who are unhappy because of their poor health," the study team points out.

It's also important to note that death isn't the only outcome that matters when assessing the benefits of happiness, noted Philipe Barreto a researcher at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France who wrote an accompanying editorial.

Even if happiness won't impact life expectancy, it will probably be associated with quality of life, Barreto said by email.

"In other words, even if happiness does not add years to life, it probably adds life to years," Barreto said.

See photos for how to live a happier life:
How to have a happy (and healthy) holiday
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Unhappiness may lead to bad choices, but it probably won't kill you

S is for Sleep

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to get good, consistent sleep. Allow yourself time to unwind at the end of a night, put away the lists and the wrapping paper at least an hour before you go to bed and pick up a book, spend time with your family or just relax. This will quiet your mind to allow you to fall asleep more quickly. Have no caffeine after 12 noon, keep your room slightly cool and dark, invest in a good pillow and count your blessings rather than the number of shopping days left.

Image Credit: Getty

L is for Laughter

Keep things in perspective. The holidays are meant to be a time for family, fun and reflection. Don't let the little things make you crazy. An imperfect tree, a missed gift or a blown fuse can easily ruin a moment or even a day. Find the humor. I promise it is there.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

E is for Eat Well.

Unfortunately now, when party schedules ramp up, sugar fairies are flying everywhere and you have little time to cook, it is more important than ever to focus on a healthy diet. Your immune system needs support and your body needs good energy to get through the season. Instead of depriving yourself of all the delicious holiday flavors, which is part of the joy of this time of year, just ensure you are getting lots of the good stuff each day. Increase your water intake, keep raw vegetables at the ready for a quick snack and eat at least three fruits a day. When you can, make healthier choices. Eat nuts instead of candy, drink decaf instead of caffeinated. Save your sugar fixes for homemade treats and avoid processed food. You will definitely feel better and you will boost your defenses against germs.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

E is for Exercise

I know it feels that you have no time, but try to find some. In the next few weeks, make your intention peace of mind. Don't exercise for weight loss. Do it for sanity. Just 15 minutes a day will make all the difference.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

P is for Prevention

Stop the spread of germs best you can. Encourage your family members to wash their hands frequently and to avoid putting  hands near the mouth. Keep nice smelling, festive hand soaps around your house. Hand washing, especially in the winter, can lead to dry skin. Dry, cracked skin is a poorer barrier to infection, so stock up on moisturizers as well.  Practice safe cooking practices, clean surfaces with antibacterial cleaning products, and change towels, facecloths and toothbrushes often. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock

S is for Stress Reduction

Don't laugh. You can do it. No matter how chaotic your schedule, you can still find time for yourself, for unscheduled fun and for just breathing ... in and out. Sometimes a few minutes is all it takes. Acknowledge you limitations, you are not Martha Stewart. Get off Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. Make your own holiday traditions and enjoy them without concerning yourself with what everyone else is doing. I know there is so much that needs to be done, but there is also so much we do that did not need to be done. Prioritize, making sure your health and the health of your family tops the list of priorities. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock


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