Dr. Steve Mason
“We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.”

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Perhaps you’ve heard of a possible connection between Happiness and Longevity. Just be happy and you’ll live longer. It seems straight forward enough and the opposite seems equally obvious. Be a grouch and your days are sure to be numbered. But is that really true?



The Pop Psych folks certainly think so. Walk into a book store and you’re more than likely to find a whole section devoted to something called Positive Psychology. Similar to Diet books, they claim fast and easy results. Also similar to Diet books, they mostly don’t work. You’re unlikely to come away any happier or any thinner. The curious thing is that despite all the books written and TED Talks given, there is actually very little legitimate research linking happiness and good health.


The Million Woman Study in the United Kingdom followed a cohort averaging 60 years of age for a decade and found there was no solid connection between happiness and longevity. What they did find was that women who reported being healthier went on to both live longer and be happier. So you might say that happiness and longer life are connected but that’s only true if an individual starts off in good health.


In a way, that takes the responsibility off the victim. If you don’t have a naturally cheerful personality and you don’t wake up singing a song it doesn’t mean you’re doomed. This will, no doubt, come as a relief to some. But if you want to know what does and what doesn’t make people happy, researchers have found a few connections: Money doesn’t make people happier so long as they have enough. There’s no direct correlation between the cash in your pocket and the smile on your face. Having children doesn’t guarantee happiness but having a mate you appreciate makes it far more likely. Subjects who drink in moderation tend to be happier while those who smoke tend to move in the opposite direction. Those who sleep approximately eight hours a night tend to be happier than those who sleep significantly more or less.


Education is interesting because it was generally believed – though it now seems erroneously so – that the more education the more happiness. In fact, the truth seems to be more complicated. Research has shown that women who are less educated are often happier. How might one account for this? It may be that the heightened expectations that typically come with a diploma are not being met. Students taking on decades of post graduate debt for a degree in a field with only limited possibilities could be a factor. And too, a higher level of learning encourages a higher level of critical thinking. Perhaps a newer, clearer view of the world is not as auspicious as a younger, less educated woman might have assumed.


Look At It This Way

Keep in mind that Happiness is a topic that can fairly be characterized as under-researched. Grant money is not low hanging fruit just waiting to be scooped up by anyone who comes along looking to study things that make for a good time. For that reason, don’t be beset with the burden of being happy 24/7. Remember that there’s much to be said for the experience of blue moods, dark poems, somber music and don’t forget…an occasional good cry.


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