The answer, it seems, is yes, but only if you are healthy. This finding is based on a review in the Journal of Happiness Studies by Ruut Veenhoven. Veenhoven, a scientist at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, found in his review that happiness in healthy populations added to longevity in a manner similar to being a non-smoker. In populations that have chronic diseases, being happy does not seem to add measurably to life expectancy.
Studies of healthy aging in the United States have focused less on longevity and more on factors that seem to ward off chronic illness. Carol Ryff, PhD, a leading researcher in this area, has shown that various personal factors, including autonomy (our degree of choice and control over our lives), environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life and self acceptance are important for successful aging and resilience. Dr. Ryff is among a growing number of researchers who are making the case for neuropsychoimmunology, the science that demonstrates that how we feel influences our immune system (as previous blog posts have outlined). Clearly, it is not difficult to imagine that what we do, and how we feel about what we do, relates to the factors that Dr. Ryff has identified in her research.
So, what is the take away from this post? Do we know what factors that lead to longer lives also lead to happiness? The answer is an equivocal yes, but is based on comparing findings of different studies rather than looking at the question from a single study. Perhaps the MIDUS II (Midlife in the United States) studies now going on under Dr. Ryff's direction will address this issue.
In this blogger's opinion, the question of longevity must always be asked in the context of life quality. The issue for us all, it seems, is not just how long we live, but how well we live.