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The pill-free secret to a longer life

If you live long enough (not that I’m that old) everything old becomes new again. Or newsworthy, at least.

I remember Erhard Seminars Training (EST), The Forum, Lifespring, Kaballah, the Course in Miracles, and even “envisioning.” So many people used to be dedicated to these approaches to living a fulfilled and enjoyable life.

So when I came across this headline recently, it took me back to when these sort of self-improvement and fulfillment groups were all the rage: “Sustained Enjoyment of Life May Help You Live Longer.”

It seems completely intuitive, right? Unfortunately it appears that we don’t focus on it as much as we should anymore. In the decades that have passed since self-improvement was first considered “trendy,” we’ve gotten away from really thinking about how leading a fulfilling life affects us on a fundamental level.

These days, enjoyment of life seems to have taken a back seat to other priorities. But with this new research in mind, I think it’s time we started talking again about the science of being happy.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), evaluated nearly 10,000 people over the age of 50.

The researchers wanted to determine whether enjoyment of life affected mortality. Previous studies have asked this question, but those were conducted at a single point in time. That can lead to skewed results, because instead of gauging a person’s overall level of happiness, the studies may have just been picking up on a person’s mood at the time of the survey.

To account for that weakness in previous studies, this one asked participants to gauge their happiness numerous times over a period of four years.

Before I get into the findings, let’s just take a quick look at the basic question of life enjoyment.

The raw data from the study is pretty depressing. Almost a quarter of the study participants never reported a high level of enjoyment of life. And only 35 percent of the participants reported “high enjoyment of life” at every check-in.

Isn’t it sad that so many people are living lives they don’t enjoy? But here’s the sadder part: Those who weren’t enjoying their lives were more likely to die during the study follow-up period. Even after accounting for health status, the researchers found that those who never reported high enjoyment in life were most likely to die during follow-up.

On the flip side of that same coin, the more frequently people pegged themselves as happy, the more likely they were to be alive in six or seven years.

Here’s the takeaway from this study: Make happiness a priority. Schedule it into your daily routine. Make a list of the things that make you feel good, and then do them.

Even if it’s something as simple as smiling at a stranger. Or going for a walk. (Added bonus: Exercise has been shown to raise levels of feel-good hormones, so it can help you feel happier on a biochemical level.)

Some other things that have been shown to lead to greater satisfaction in life include a strong support network of family and/or friends. Having a spouse or life partner is consistently cited as a key to happiness. As does basic financial security or a safety net. (Not having to worry about where the next meal is coming from goes a long way in keeping a person happy.) Another key is understanding and accepting loss as a part of life.

Not all of these factors are within your control. But a lot of them are. If you’re not enjoying your life, take a look around and see what you can do to change that.

 

Sources:

“Sustained Enjoyment of Life May Help You Live Longer,” MedScape Medical News (www.medscape.com), 12/21/16

“Sustained enjoyment of life and mortality at older ages: analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing,” BMJ 2016; 355: i6267


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