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Medicine Idle Science

Study: Happiness Won't Extend Your Life After All (latimes.com) 108

schwit1 writes with good news for fans of living a long and ultimately unfulfilling life. Happy people live longer, a relationship that's been documented in a variety of research studies. But a new paper published in the medical journal Lancet comes to the sad conclusion that happiness isn't responsible for this observed longevity. Instead, the things that make people happy, particularly their good health, are the same things that shield them from premature death. "Happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality," the study authors wrote.
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Study: Happiness Won't Extend Your Life After All

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  • Get High! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2015 @01:44AM (#51098889)

    And you won't care!

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <giarc.a.kram>> on Friday December 11, 2015 @01:45AM (#51098891)

    ... correlation is not causation!

    • Or help prove the opposite.

      Go out and kill someone happy today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Maybe do it every day for the next couple of months.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @05:34AM (#51099235) Homepage

      Don't worry in a few years they'll find out that happiness lead to good life choices that lead to good health that lead to you living longer.

      At least I know I'm prone to destructive behavior like binge eating or getting hammered when I'm sad. That's got to have an effect.

    • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @05:41AM (#51099251)

      Yes, but if there is no positive or negative correlation then there is also no causation, and that's what this article is about.

      • Did you understand the idea that perhaps being happy and living longer are both caused by something else? That seems so utterly obvious to me that I can't understand how anyone can ever have wasted research funds on the question. Oh wait, except that the system forces scientists to pump out papers like a shoemaker producing shoes. The truly surprising thing is that important papers on meaningful topics ever get published.

        • There's a LOT of scientific advances that are triggered by somebody taking a second look at something utterly obvious, and either testing it or formalizing it.

          • There's a LOT of scientific advances that are triggered by somebody taking a second look at something utterly obvious, and either testing it or formalizing it.

            take "heavier things fall faster, obviously" for instance

    • ... correlation is not causation!

      Absolutely - however it seems possible to interpret the results that happy people take better care of themselves, thus improving their probable lifespan.

      In this case, while not the direct factor, happiness is causal for better health which is causal for longer life.

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

        ... correlation is not causation!

        Absolutely - however it seems possible to interpret the results that happy people take better care of themselves, thus improving their probable lifespan.

        In this case, while not the direct factor, happiness is causal for better health which is causal for longer life.

        Would you rather live 76.72 years happy or miserable? I guess that depends upon whether you want your life to appear to be long or not.

      • Absolutely - however it seems possible to interpret the results that happy people take better care of themselves, thus improving their probable lifespan.

        Bingo.

        Also, sometimes correlation is evidence of causation. Not always, of course, but sometimes correlation is most certainly an indicator of causation.

        • by Chasqui ( 601659 )

          Bingo.

          Also, sometimes correlation is evidence of causation. Not always, of course, but sometimes correlation is most certainly an indicator of causation.

          No. Correlation is never evidence of causation. Correlation is only evidence of correlation. There may be causation. Not always. Correlation is not an indicator of causation. It indicates you cannot rule out causation. Look for it. Try to find causality. But to not be fooled that because a correlation exists between two items or events that one causes the other.

        • by imidan ( 559239 )

          Also, sometimes correlation is evidence of causation. Not always, of course, but sometimes correlation is most certainly an indicator of causation.

          Of course, you're correct, but 'correlation != causation' is one of the phrases that idiots will always post as a response to every science article that mentions correlation, and it will always be modded insightful even though it is just a trite throwaway slogan.

          As a statistician, the formulation I prefer is 'correlation does not necessarily imply causation.' Wh

          • Also, sometimes correlation is evidence of causation. Not always, of course, but sometimes correlation is most certainly an indicator of causation.

            Of course, you're correct, but 'correlation != causation' is one of the phrases that idiots will always post as a response to every science article that mentions correlation, and it will always be modded insightful even though it is just a trite throwaway slogan.

            As a statistician, the formulation I prefer is 'correlation does not necessarily imply causation.' Which has the benefit of being true, but the drawback of not being as useful for mindlessly gainsaying the result of any study, so you don't see it much on line.

            for that matter, lack of correlation doesn't always mean lack of causation, but you better have a damn good explanation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2015 @01:50AM (#51098907)

    They said I would live longer if I gave up red meat, dessert, exercised every day, and got married.

    But then it occurred to me that it probably just seems longer.

    • The balance of proper scientific evidence suggests that giving up red meat would in fact make your life shorter, less healthy, and less happy. Vegetarians are more prone to depression and a range of diseases. See, for example, http://www.fathead-movie.com/i... [fathead-movie.com]

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11, 2015 @09:35AM (#51099799)

        And it's so hard to live on a vegetarian diet. They tend to be awfully stringy and tough to chew. But if you wrap them in enough bacon, who cares?

        • Like it, like it.

        • You simply *must* find the correct marinade. It varies by the region and type of range they matured in.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Do you really classify pigs, chickens and fish as vegetables?

      • The balance of proper scientific evidence suggests that giving up red meat would in fact make your life shorter, less healthy, and less happy. Vegetarians are more prone to depression and a range of diseases. See, for example, http://www.fathead-movie.com/i... [fathead-movie.com]

        Except for the part where
        "For depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and somatoform disorders and syndromes we found that on average the adoption of the vegetarian diet follows the onset of mental disorders." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm... [nih.gov]

      • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

        Giving up red meat doesn't necessarily make someone a vegetarian. There are meats other than red meat.

    • Married men live longer, but then again, so do unhappy men. Correlation? Causation?

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      But then it occurred to me that it probably just seems longer.

      Hehehehe, nice! That is why I eat read meat, do not exercise and did not get married. I am not much into dessert though, so some subjective life extension may apply.

  • by surfdaddy ( 930829 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @01:56AM (#51098927)

    Hoping I'll live a long and unhappy life.

    • by TimSSG ( 1068536 )
      If you are unhappy, your life will likely seem to be longer in length. Tim S.

      Hoping I'll live a long and unhappy life.

  • So this is a causation/correlation thing: happiness correlates with longevity, but is not by itself the *cause* of longevity.

    From a practical standpoint, this means that techniques to increase one's happiness by psychological means will have no effect on longevity. Things like keeping a journal, or giving daily thanks, and so on.

    This raises an interesting point. If longevity correlates with happiness but is not caused by happiness, then it follows that psychological techniques to increase happiness have no

    • This raises an interesting point. If longevity correlates with happiness but is not caused by happiness, then it follows that psychological techniques to increase happiness have no effect - else there would be a measure of causation. People who have successfully become happier using the techniques actually got happier due to other lifestyle changes, which increase both happiness and longevity.

      Maybe it means that physical pain is the #1 cause of unhappiness in life.

    • So in summary, don't bother trying to change your happiness level by psychological means. If the techniques worked then it would have an effect on one's longevity. Since it doesn't, the conclusion is that the techniques don't work.

      I guess happiness is a worthy goal to strive towards quite regardless of whether it lengthens lifespan or not. A shorter but happy life seems preferable to a long and miserable one.

      Of course, you could always have the ultimate short life by overdosing on happy pills. But that's just sad....

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ... psychological techniques to increase happiness have no effect ... People who have successfully become happier ... actually got happier due to other lifestyle changes ...

      You don't become pope unless you think it's a good idea to be Catholic. And you don't become a psychologist unless you think it's a useful to understand feelings and emotions (both your own and other people's). Basically, the central dogma of modern psychology is that understanding feelings and emotions is useful.

      But that's subtly different than simply suppressing your feelings and emotions. In fact, in a certain sense, it's exactly the opposite.

      One way to think of feelings and emotions is that they're like

    • Not necessarily. Happy people might take care of themselves better, therefore increasing longevity by modifying the things the study is controlled for. For example, overeating is a common symptom of depression, so if you can cure your depression you'll likely eat better and have better health.

      Even disregarding that, happiness by itself isn't a bad goal to have. If you anticipate living sixty more years, would you rather do it with or without clinical depression?

  • But unhappiness. . . (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Idou ( 572394 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @02:18AM (#51098953) Journal
    Will certainly make it seem like your life is longer. . .
  • by rodia ( 1031082 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @03:37AM (#51099071)
    Two things A and B occurring together can have one of these reasons:

    1) A is a direct or indirect, exclsive or non-exclusive cause for B.
    2) same as 1) with A and B interchanged. I possibly just lost the media croud, but anyway..
    3) A and B have a common, direct or indirect, exclusive or non-exclusive, cause C (as in this story).
    4) It's just coincidence.

    Without further evidence, we just don't know which one it is; and you just jumping to conclusions because you feel like it and then being proven wrong is NOT news.
  • ...get back off my lawn!

  • Stress is a big killer for sure.

    • As is a complete lack of stress.

      • by JRV31 ( 2962911 )
        As a cancer patient I believe that a healthy, optimistic attitude helps me stay reasonably healthy and happy. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is excellent news, not a "sad conclusion" at all.

    People can't directly control their level of happiness. But they can affect their level of health, to a degree. It's hard, but certainly easier than attempting to change your happiness set-point [wikipedia.org]. So this result is saying both that (a) longevity is not, as previously thought, dependent on something you can't control, and (b) happiness is easier to control than previously thought.

  • by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @05:41AM (#51099245)

    If I am happy and die with 50 then that is fine. I would also be happy when I reach 90 and been happy all the time. Longevity is not that important. In the end you are dead and there is no sense in being miserable all your life for 90 years, except you are a poet then this is what you like. So you are at least happy that you are so wonderfully miserable.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      I'll be :) if I die today if God says it is time to go. I care not and ready.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by naris ( 830549 )

      If I am happy and die with 50 then that is fine.

      Get back to us when you are 49 and let us know if you still think this...

      • First of all I am 44 which is already close enough.
        And second, I do not want to die with 50, but if it happens when I am fifty, well better make sure my life was a happy one, which it isn't why else would I time on ./ ;-)

        • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

          which it isn't why else would I time on ./

          Well, at least you're not wasting any of your precious minutes on spellcheck and proofing. :P

    • Anecdotally, misery increases (relative) longevity. Why? I suppose because it loves company.

      Not that I haven't known people who were happy to a ripe old age (I would think 95 counts as that), but of the vanishingly small set of the population with which I am acquainted, the span of life following a critical health set back is shortest for those who are happiest. For example, I knew a woman who had a couple of months to live but managed to turn it into years. Who knew that smearing shit on the walls from col

  • Even if I don't live longer being happy, I'd still prefer to live a happy life than a miserable one. Happiness is still a worthy goal for its own sake (and I'd probably want a shorter - happier life even if there was an inverse correlation) so I don't see the point of this study.
  • "The Million Women Study is a prospective study of UK women recruited between 1996 and 2001 and followed electronically for cause-specific mortality."


    There's still hope for men, then...


    (ducks)


    (OK, there's still hope for ducks...)
  • The bad news is that suffering won't make you life (and pain) shorter!
  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Friday December 11, 2015 @09:06AM (#51099697)

    Not sure I'm buying the results of this study.

    I think that happiness (however you define it) translates into a lot of behaviors (or avoidance of certain behaviors) that can influence how long you live, or more importantly, how you live. And how you live does have an effect on how long you live, but it can be hard to quantify the big picture.

    If you're unhappy you may choose (consciously or unconsciously) to take more "risky" chances, you may choose to engage in behaviors that have statistically worse outcomes, you may take poorer care of yourself in various ways, and so on.

    In other words, I think the study is simplistic and provably meaningless. It doesn't really address the follow-on effects of unhappiness and the attendant outcomes.

    If you're trying to draw a straight line between "happiness" and "living a long time", I think that's going to fail, but I do think that being happy gives you a better likelihood of living longer because of the overall effect on your life when viewed in context with your choices and behavior.

    • My friend works for a potato chip company and he told me the most depressing period of the year (winter) is when the sales are the highest. Same goes for the economy. When the economy dips, their revenues spike.

      I could not find data to back this claim but I believe him since he's the director of sales.

    • So, does happiness have a direct effect on longevity, or is it a matter of taking better care of yourself when you're happy? It appears that, if you control for things like eating right and getting exercise, happiness doesn't affect longevity. That's worth knowing.

      • So, does happiness have a direct effect on longevity, or is it a matter of taking better care of yourself when you're happy?

        I guess you'd have to take two identical twins, remove their brains, and let their brains live in jars while you made one "happy" brain and one "unhappy" brain (or just "not happy") and then we could see for sure if the happy brain lived longer.

        (And for all you pedants and humor-impaired numbnuts, I am joking. No need to piss yourselves silly while hammering your keyboards to bits telling me how "that wouldn't prove anything!" or whatever.)

  • it's that stress (too much of it, particularly) shortens it.
  • Finally, been holding that in for ages now...

  • The science was settled. What happened?

  • People should concentrate on living a quality life, not squeezing every last second of life they can out of their bodies.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle would likely, eventually, make most people unhappy (unless they like discomfort and vastly reduced abilities). And if a particular unhealthy lifestyle never makes the individual unhappy, they may still live long. My neighbor smoked (it made him happy) since he was 16, and lived until 96! Did a gene make smoking NOT unhealthy for him?! It seems to me that this happy effect statistic, and anything related, is just one of those useless statistics; which appears totally in need of context!

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