The research is in: happy people really do live longer

Two young children chased by grandparents on beach. All laughing.

Image: monkeybusinessimages/

It’s true, happy people live longer. And the research is quite overwhelming, among them a study of 180 nuns by the University of Kentucky.

Researchers uncovered the autobiographies of the 180 nuns that had been penned when they first entered the convent in the 1930s. They analysed the tone of these writings—whether they were upbeat and optimistic or forlorn and pessimistic—to see if it influenced how long they lived.

It’s worth noting that nuns are ideal for a study like this because their lifestyle habits are similar—similar diet and physical activity levels—and they’re unlikely to do drugs or participate in other risky activities.

The researchers found that fewer than one in five of the least happy nuns were still alive at the age of 93, whereas more than half of the happiest nuns were.

The dead psychologists society

Researchers from the University of Kansas analysed the writings of well-known deceased psychologists and found that those who used more positive emotional words lived about three years longer.

Another study found that older individuals with a more positive outlook toward ageing lived 7.5 years longer than those who did not share their same optimistic approach.

The smile advantage

To take it a step further, researchers from Wayne State University asked the question, ‘Can longevity be predicted by something as simple as how much someone smiles in a photograph?’

To test it, they took 230 major league baseball cards from 1952, rated the player’s ‘smile intensity’ on the card, and mapped it against how long they lived.

Remarkably, the players who pulled the cheesiest grins—described as a Duchene smile—lived on average seven years longer than those who didn’t smile at all.

That’s incredible

A smile adding seven years of extra life is incredible, especially when we consider that eating a healthy diet, being physically active and not smoking add about two years each to one’s life expectancy.

Obviously, it wasn’t just one smile—the smiley players in the baseball study were probably smilier most of the time.

Happy people live longer

One thing is clear: Happy people tend to live longer.

After reviewing many studies examining the relationship between longevity and happiness, renowned researcher Dr Ed Diener estimated that a very happy person is likely to live between four to 10 years longer than their unhappy neighbour.

It seems the ancient proverb is correct: ‘Being cheerful keeps you healthy, it’s a slow death to be gloomy all the time.’

Darren Morton is a Fellow of the Australian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. This post is adapted from his latest book Live More Happy—available at

Category: Attitude, Emotional Health, Lifestyle

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