A lot of us have a very rosy view of the world we are living in. We think that happy people live a longer life since they have few cares to weigh them down. From your own perspective, does it seem true that those you know lived the longest was actually the happiest beings? What about the ones who lived the shortest? Were they exceptionally unsatisfied with life? Can happiness be the key distinguishing factor between the have’s and have-nots in the durability game?
To answer these questions, University of Melbourne’s Bruce Headey & Jongsay Yong (2019) scrutinized the data from two very long-term panel studies conducted in Germany & Australia to explore what they regarded as anomalies in some of the happiness-longevity studies. According to their finding, the relationship cannot be as simple as the previous researchers have claimed.
Happy people live longer because they don’t have the chronic conditions that shorten one’s life, as the authors note somewhat ironically, “unless we are to believe that happy people stay alive by sheer will power”. In this equation personality also needs to be factored. One previous study reported a few years ago that it was the actually the happiest people who died at younger ages. Their early deaths had nothing to do with happiness, but with the factors that led to their death. As it turned out, the unfortunate happy people had been carefree but reckless as children. Lower in the personality trait of conscientiousness, they took lesser preventative measures, and therefore met an earlier death than the less contented but more careful health-conscious. Their contentment was matched with the poor habits of smoking, drinking too much, and not complying with health treatments. They died not because they were too contented but because they were unable to guard against these threats to their health.