The Longevity Project: Happiness and Unhappiness

According to a new book, The Longevity Project, authored by Howard Friedman and and Leslie Martin, the basic premise behind happiness is this: sadness does not make you sick any more than happiness makes you well…

The Longevity Project is based on the results of a longitudinal study started by psychologist Lewis Terman (which became known as the “Terman Study”). The Terman study followed a group of 1,500 Californians over eighty years, beginning in 1921. All of the children selected for this study were judged to be of high IQ  (presumably because with high IQ are more predisposed to live longer, happier, and more successful lives). A snippet from The Atlantic provides the findings (I’ve bolded the two most interesting/important points):

All three researchers concluded that one of the biggest factors in both a happy life and a long life was having strong and healthy social connections. Beyond that, the people who tended to have “happy-well” outcomes were conscientious, emotionally healthy individuals who set and actively pursued goals; who incorporated strong social networks, exercise and “healthy” eating/drinking habits organically into their everyday lives; who were optimistic but not to the point of being careless or reckless; social enough to form strong networks, but not so social as to pursue unhealthy habits for peer approval; and who felt engaged and satisfied in their careers, marriages, and friendships.

According to Friedman and Martin, however, there’s one area where unhappiness does seem to play a causal role. It may not directly sicken or shorten the life of the person experiencing the unhappiness. But it [unhappiness] apparently can be toxic for people who have to live with that unhappy person. Unlike the Grant Study, which interviewed only the Harvard men, the Terman study also interviewed the spouses of the people in the study, to gauge their impact on study participants’ lives. And in the Terman study, women married to unhappy men tended to be unhealthier, and live shorter lives, than women married to happy men. Oddly, the reverse was not true. The happiness of the woman had very little effect on the lifespan or happiness of her husband.

I haven’t read The Longevity Project, but it does look quite interesting. The best book I’ve read on the topic of happiness is Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss — it’s about one man’s search for the happiest countries on Earth.

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