Being happy doesn’t result in extended life expectancy, a study featured in British medical journal The Lancet has revealed.
The astonishing revelations, published on Wednesday, December 9, have been made by a team of experts led by Sir Richard Peto, professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, England, and Dr. Bette Liu, acclaimed epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia.
Medical data collected between 1996 and 2001 during the UK Million Women Study was included in this research, and the findings contradict all prior studies which had claimed that unhappiness leads to sickness, being therefore a key contributing factor to premature death.
The most important part of the analysis involved a group of 720,000 study participants, aged between 50 and 69. For a period of 10 years, researchers tracked these subjects, using online death records and obituaries, and discovered that approximately 30,000 persons pertaining to this group had died during this interval.
Health and mortality data was afterwards compared against questionnaire answers submitted by the participants 3 years after the study had begun. During that survey, experts had recorded each woman’s self-assessed level of contentment, physical health, perceived control, stress and relaxation.
Around 1 in 6 women had declared themselves to be distressed, whereas the rest had claimed to be generally joyful. When correlating these answers with premature death rates, researchers weren’t able to identify any statistically significant connection between unhappiness and mortality.
Other connections which had been inferred by prior research were encountered instead. For instance, it was proven that dispirited women are more likely to be of modest means and to live on their own, in the absence of a romantic partner.
Moreover, they are more prone to drinking alcohol and smoking and to leading sedentary lives, with insufficient amounts of physical exercise.
Instead of coming to the conclusion that sadness leads to sickness, researchers noticed that the relationship worked the other way round, in an instance of “reverse causality”: basically, female participants whose health was the most precarious were more susceptible to feeling dejected, tense and helpless.
Approximately one million women had been included in the survey, but no conclusive evidence was found in order to support the idea that happiness can prolong life, despite the fact that this idea had been considered to be an undeniable truth until now.
Overall, when controlling for variables such as smoking, prior health status, income level and lifestyle characteristics, it was discovered that women who had declared themselves to be downhearted had similar mortality rates to those of their counterparts, who had characterized themselves as happy.
In addition, the likelihood of premature death as a result of cardiovascular disease was virtually the same, and so was the incidence of cancer mortality among this large sample of respondents.
According to Liu, in the past, experts analyzing the impact of mental health on physical well-being have been guilty of assuming that correlation suggests causation. Just because feelings of sadness sometimes occur concomitantly with medical issues, doesn’t mean that they have triggered them.
This logical fallacy, scientifically known as “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” (with this, therefore because of this) should be avoided from now on, given that it perpetuates false beliefs about life and mortality.
Instead, follow-up studies should be conducted, in order to gain more in-depth knowledge into the repercussions of poor health on mental well-being and morale.
In addition, greater emphasis should be placed on curbing the incidence of cigarette smoking and obesity, which have been proven as undeniable triggers of premature death.
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