Life potentials The effect of happiness on health

In a famous study of 180 nuns it turned out that those who were positive, optimistic and happy at the age of 20 ended up living almost ten years longer than the nuns who were more negative or neutral

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You live 10 years longer if you are happy

Optimistic and happy people have longer and healthier lives

One of the most famous studies of the effects of happiness and optimism comes from analysing old diaries of catholic nuns from the school of Notre Dame. A total of 178 nuns wrote down their thoughts in journals.

50 years later researchers decided to analyse the content of the journals looking for positive, optimistic and happy emotional content. The idea was to find out if the nuns level of positivity as 20-year-olds had any influence on how their life turned out and how long they lived.

It turned out that it did.

10 extra years of life - happy life

The nuns who wrote more positive and joyful journal entries lived almost ten years longer than the nuns who wrote more negative or neutral content in their diaries.

This is a fascinating discovery! Also because it is very strong case for the importance of positivity and optimism for life expectancy. Or put differently, the effect of happiness on health.

The nuns who were happy at 20 could not have known they would live longer when they wrote their diary entries. In other words, their superior health could not be the reason for their positive entries. The longer life spans of the the nuns could only be the result of their happiness.

The fact that by the age of eighty-five, 90 percent of the happiest nuns were still alive, compared to only 34 percent of the least happy ones, further illustrates the importance of positivity and optimism on health.

Furthermore, more than half of the most positive nuns were still alive at age ninety-four compared to only 11 percent of the least positive ones.

Something to think about

That is some very interesting findings! Especially because the nuns all lived very similar - if not almost identical - lives in terms of their material possessions and daily activities. So the differences in happiness and optimism can not be pinned down to “objective” differences in the lives they led. Some nuns simply had a more positive view on life than others and this made a BIG difference on their health and how long they lived.

And of course, they didn’t just have long, healthy lives. They had long, healthy HAPPY lives. What could be better than that?


The Happiness Advantage

Read more fascinating examples of how a positive state of mind can influence your physical well being in the book “The Happiness Advantage” by Harvard graduate Shawn Achor.


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