Women laugh amid the daffodils in Green Park in central London March 15, 2014.
Women laugh amid the daffodils in Green Park in central London March 15, 2014. Reuters/Olivia Harris

Happiness does not have anything to do with how long one lives or dies. A study published in Lancet on Dec. 9 proves that unhappy people are not more prone to poor health and premature death than happy ones.

"Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn't make you ill,” lead author Dr. Bette Liu of the University of South Wales said in a press release. “We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a ten-year study of a million women."

Common belief says that unhappiness can bring diseases, thus associated with death, but the study shows that it is poor health that causes unhappiness instead. Unhappiness, per se, is not associated with increased chances of mortality.

The main study included 700,000 women with an average age of 59 years. The women were recruited between 1996 and 2001 and were given questionnaires rating their health, happiness, stress, feelings of control and if they felt relaxed. Thirty-nine percent claimed being happy most of the time, 44 percent claimed being usually happy and 17 percent reported being unhappy. In 10 years, the researchers followed-up the causes of deaths among these women.

Smoking, lack of exercise and living without a partner were all associated with unhappiness. However, women who were already in poor health said that they were not happy, are stressed, not in control and not relaxed. Despite this, the overall death rate among unhappy and happy women was the same, showing that unhappiness is not a cause of ill health and death.

“Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect,” said co-author Professor Richard Peto from the University of Oxford UK. “Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but the UK Million Women Study shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates.”

Dr. Philipe de Souto Barreto and Professor Yves Rolland of the Institute of Ageing at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France said in a commentary piece that the study is not conclusive. The study provides important information about happiness, health and mortality but more trials to further investigate the issue must be done.

"Such studies should be powered to allow comparisons to be made across age ranges and between men and women,” the experts said. “Cross-cultural studies could also shed light on the generalisability of interventions to promote happiness."

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