smason edit.jpg (23187 bytes)Look At It This Way
by Dr. Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things
In new ways



Perhaps youíve heard of a possible connection between Happiness and Longevity. Just be happy and youíll live longer. It seems straight forward enough and the opposite seems equally obvious. Be a grouch and your days are sure to be numbered. But is that really true?

The Pop Psych folks certainly think so. Walk into a book store and youíre more than likely to find a whole section devoted tosomething called Positive Psychology. Similar to Diet books, they claim fast and easy results. Also similar to Diet books, they mostly donít work. Youíre unlikely to come away any happier or any thinner. The curious thing is that despite all the books written and TED Talks given, there is actually very little legitimate research linking happiness and good health.

The Million Woman Study in the United Kingdom followed a cohort averaging 60 years of age for a decade and found there was no solid connection between happiness and longevity. What they did find was that women who reported being healthier went on to both live longer and be happier. So you might say that happiness and longer life are connected but thatís only true if an individual starts off in good health.

In a way, that takes the responsibility off the victim. If you donít have a naturally cheerful personality and you donít wake up singing a song it doesnít mean youíre doomed. This will, no doubt, come as a relief to some. But if you want to know what does and what doesnít make people happy, researchers have found a few connections: Money doesn't make people happier so long as they have enough. Thereís no direct correlation between the cash in your pocket and the smile on your face. Having children doesnít guarantee happiness but having a mate you appreciate makes it far more likely. Subjects who drink in moderation tend to be happier while those who smoke tend to move in the opposite direction. Those who sleep approximately eight hours a night tend to be happier than those who sleep significantly more or less.

Education is interesting because it was generally believed - though it now seems erroneously so - that the more education the more happiness. In fact, the truth seems to be more complicated. Research has shown that women who are less educated are often happier. How might one account for this? It may be that the heightened expectations that typically come with a diploma are not being met. Students taking on decades of post graduate debt for a degree in a field with only limited possibilities could be a factor. And too, a higher level of learning encourages a higher level of critical thinking. Perhaps a newer, clearer view of the world is not as auspicious as a younger, less educated woman might have assumed.

Look At It This Way

Keep in mind that Happiness is a topic that can fairly be characterized as under-researched. Grant money is not low hanging fruit just waiting to be scooped up by anyone who comes along looking to study things that make for a good time. For that reason, donít be beset with the burden of being happy 24/7. Remember that thereís much to be said for the experience of blue moods, dark poems, somber music and donít occasional good cry.

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