Happy older people may live longer

Happiness can prolong life in older adults, say scientists including one of Indian origin.

The study, published in the journal Age and Ageing, used data for 4,478 participants of a survey to look at the association between happiness, assessed in the year 2009, and subsequent likelihood of dying due to any cause, until December 31, 2015. “The findings indicate that even small increments in happiness may be beneficial to older people’s longevity,” said Rahul Malhotra, assistant professor at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

“Therefore individual-level activities as well as government policies and programmes that maintain or improve happiness or psychological well-being may contribute to a longer life among older people,” said Malhotra. The survey was focused on individuals’ aged 60 years and older living in Singapore. Happiness was assessed by asking the survey participants how often in the past week they experienced the following: ‘I felt happy’, ‘I enjoyed life’ and ‘I felt hope about the future’. Their responses were considered in two distinct ways; a ‘happiness score’, and a ‘binary happiness variable — Happy/Unhappy’.

A wide range of demographics, lifestyle choices, health and social factors were accounted for in the analysis. The researchers found that among happy older people, 15 per cent passed away until December 31, 2015. In contrast, the corresponding proportion was higher, at 20 per cent, among unhappy older people. Every increase of one point on the happiness score lowered the chance of dying due to any cause among participants by an additional nine per cent. The likelihood of dying due to any cause was 19 per cent lower for happy older people.

Further, the inverse association of happiness with mortality was consistently present among men and women, and among the young-old (aged 60-79 years) and the old-old (aged 75 years or older). “The consistency of the inverse association of happiness with mortality across age groups and gender is insightful — men and women, the young-old and the old-old, all are likely to benefit from an increase in happiness,” said June May-Ling Lee, from Duke-NUS Medical School.