Can Your Mood Predict Your Risk of Dying?

Donít worry, be unhappy: Your bad mood wonít increase your chances of getting sick and dying, according to a study in The Lancet.

Happiness is often thought to affect wellbeing, and in a decade-long study of a million British women ages 50-69, researchers asked participants about how often they felt happy, stressed, or relaxed; they also studied official records of deaths and hospital admissions. The scientists found that stress and unhappiness were not linked with an increased risk of death.

The research efforts focused only on women, and whether the same findings apply to men is not mentioned.

Controversial Results

The study results are surprising, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York City: Various other studies have found a connection between unhappiness and an increased risk of death. Rego notes that the study design itself may be problematic.

"The tricky thing about this study is that itís observational," he says. In an observational study, participants are observed and outcomes measured, but treatments generally aren't given. Observational studies don't allow researchers to determine cause and effect relationships.

"It also relied on a simplified self-report measure which was completed by the participants, and there are always some challenges with self-reporting measures," Rego adds. "In addition, everybody doesnít define unhappiness in exactly the same way."

Findings can be an issue whenever a study relies on self-reporting, agrees Alan Manevitz, MD, an attending psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Itís their own opinion," he says. "People can be in pain and not feeling well, and some may report that they are unhappy while others don't report this."

Still, the study is important in terms of size and scope, Rego says. "It was a very large study, it is recent, and it was done in a country that is very similar to the United States in many ways," he says.

Boosting Happiness

Whether or not your emotional state affects your health, more happiness is never a bad goal. To increase yours, try these exercises:

  • Consider the effect that stress and negativity can have, and work to reduce these in your life. "Itís important to focus on the positive," Manevitz says. "State the positive first and then acknowledge the negative, because negative thoughts have a negative impact on your system."
  • Think about what happiness really means to you. The state isnít necessarily achieved using a quick fix such as money or a trip. "When you clarify the things that you strongly value, and then act in accordance with these values, this is where most people will get satisfaction and stability," Rego says.

Other ways to increase your happiness? Volunteer, exercise, and spend time with positive people. "If you are around positive people, you are more likely to be happy yourself," Manevitz says.

Simon Rego, PsyD, reviewed this article.

Sources

Rego, Simon, PSyD. Phone interview January 3, 2016.

Manevitz, Alan, MD. Phone interview December 29, 2015.

Grady, Denise. "Happiness Doesnít Bring Good Health, Study Finds." The New York Times. 9 December 2015.

Liu, Betty et al. "Does Happiness Itself Directly Affect Mortality? The Prospective UK Million Women Study." The Lancet.9 December 2015.

NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms." National Cancer Institute. Page accessed February 22, 2016.