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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Stay Happy, Live Longer

The idea that feeling good may be good for your health is not new. Three decades ago, Lazarus et al (1980), suggested that under intensely stressful conditions positive emotions might be protective. Whilst helping to sustain coping efforts, positive emotions also appeared to replenish vital resources that had been depleted by stress.

In a more recent review of the literature, Anthony Ong* of Cornell University looked at how positive emotions can influence health outcomes in later adulthood.

"We all age. It is how we age, however, that determines the quality of our lives," he says. The data he reviewed suggests that positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness. Studies found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress.

Ong became interested in the study of positive emotion when he learned about what researchers call the paradox of ageing: despite the notable loss of physical function throughout the body, a person's emotional capacity seemed to stay consistent with age. Ong speculated that if positive emotions are indeed good for our health then, "one direct, measurable consequence of this should be the extended years of quality living." And that is what he found.

So there you have it - stay happy, live longer.

*Anthony D. Ong (2010). Pathways Linking Positive Emotion and Health in Later Life. Current Directions in Psychological Science, December 2010; vol. 19, 6: pp. 358-362.


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