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Could Happy Lives Be Longer Lives?
Date:11/1/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- A new British study finds that older adults who report feeling happy and content live longer than others.

But the research doesn't prove that happiness leads to longer life, and the study authors also found that high levels of negative emotions such as anxiety didn't take years off people's lives.

Still, "the study therefore points to a fascinating link between how happy we feel on a moment-to-moment basis and survival," said study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the Division of Population Health at University College London.

"The challenge now is to establish what the underlying processes are, and whether we can harness these to improve people's health," Steptoe said.

Researchers think that happiness has a connection to health, but the challenge is figuring out the particular mechanisms at work. "Does illness make you feel less happy, or does happiness protect against illness? This research is about the second of these possibilities," Steptoe said.

The study appears online Oct. 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study authors asked about 3,850 people aged 52 to 79 to describe their feelings -- happy, excited, content, worried, anxious or fearful -- four times during one 24-hour period. The volunteers were participating in a study on aging. The researchers' goal was to monitor what's known as "positive affect" and "negative affect." Positive affect is an umbrella term referring to states such as happiness, peacefulness and excitedness. Negative affect is the opposite -- anxiety, for example.

Next, the researchers tracked the participants to see how many died over the next five years. More than 7 percent of those who were in the lowest third -- those reporting the least happiness -- died. By comparison, only 3.6 percent in the third with the highest level of self-described happi
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