Positive mental health boosts lifespan, study finds

by Carol Clark

(Medical Xpress)—People who are flourishing – both feeling happy and functioning well in their lives – are 60 percent less likely to die prematurely, finds a major study that followed more than 3,000 U.S. adults over 10 years.

The results, published in the , applied to both men and women of varying ages, races, weights and socio-economic status.

"We've shown that, even when you factor in many other variables, if you are flourishing you have a dramatically lower risk of premature mortality, no matter what the cause of death," says lead author Corey Keyes, a sociologist at Emory University and a pioneer of positive psychology.

The data for the analysis drew from the Midlife in the United States Study, which measured baseline positive mental health of the participants in 1995, and followed up in 2005. The ages of the participants spanned 25 to 74 at the beginning of the study, and 35 to 84 at the conclusion.

In the , the participants were asked if they had suffered within the past year from depression, or , conditions that have been associated with a higher risk of . They were also assessed for , or simply feeling good, and for whether they were functioning well in life, or flourishing. The term flourishing encompasses factors such as managing stress, achieving intimacy with others, working productively and making a contribution to society.

Nearly 50 percent of the , who were representative of the general population, met the criteria for sufficiently high emotional well-being. Only 18 percent, however, were flourishing, meaning they met the full criteria of sufficiently high emotional well-being, combined with sufficiently high social well-being.

"You need both of these qualities for complete happiness," Keyes says.

A total of 6.3 percent of the participants died during the study period. The odds ratio for mortality was 1.62 for adults who were not flourishing, relative to participants with flourishing mental health.

"What was most amazing to me was that the results held for all ages," Keyes says. "Even late in life, if you are flourishing you are significantly less likely to die prematurely."

Tobacco use and physical inactivity, behaviors associated in previous studies with people who have lower levels of emotional well-being, may partially explain how positive mental health affects mortality, Keyes says.

"We focus so much of our national health resources on treating mental illness, when it's actually the absence of well-being that is getting to us," Keyes says. "It may be common sense, but it's uncommon public policy to invest more in promoting well-being."

More information: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22994191

Related Stories

New Cambridge study measures countries' well-being

Dec 22, 2011

At the heart of any country’s progress lies the well-being of its people. How to accurately and effectively determine well-being is the subject of a recent study at the University of Cambridge.

Happiness contributes to longer life: study

Nov 01, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Don’t Worry. Be Happy. The words from this famous song may have more meaning than originally intended according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Ac ...

Anxiety and depression increase risk of sick leave

Jul 31, 2012

Long-term sick leave is a burden for individuals and society at large, yet very little is known about the underlying reasons for it. Researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in collaboration ...

Mood and anxiety disorders affect many older adults

May 03, 2010

Rates of mood and anxiety disorders appear to decline with age but the conditions remain common in older adults, especially women, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Recommended for you

Mother-daughter research team studies severe-weather phobia

Sep 19, 2014

No one likes severe weather, but for some just the thought of a thunderstorm, tornado, hurricane or blizzard can severely affect their lives. When blood pressures spike, individuals obsessively monitor weather forecasts and ...

Study: Pupil size shows reliability of decisions

Sep 18, 2014

Te precision with which people make decisions can be predicted by measuring pupil size before they are presented with any information about the decision, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational Bi ...

User comments