positive-attitudeA new study observed one million women in middle age over a period of ten years to find that what we believe about happiness—that it makes you live a long and better life—may not actually be true.

“Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn’t make you ill. We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a 10-year study,” explains study author Bette Liu.

For this study, researcher Professor Richard Peto—and his team—wanted to look at this particular subject because the belief that stress and unhappiness can lead to decreased health is so widespread. Dr. Peto, then, explains this is “good news for the grumpy” because those who tend to be viewed as “pessimists” appear to not necessarily be at any kind of health detriment.

“Believing things that aren’t true isn’t a good idea,” Dr. Peto advises, “There are enough scare stories about health.”
Similarly, Carnegie Mellon University psychologist Baruch Fischhoff notes, “I would have liked to see more discussion of how people translate these complicated feelings into a self-report of happiness. Think about everything that’s going on in your life and tell me how happy you are. Happiness is a squishy measure.”

Peto continues, “Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect. Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but the UK Million Women Study shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates.”

Finally, Dr. Peto concludes: “This finding refutes the large effects of unhappiness and stress on mortality that others have claimed.”