People with a happy spouse are much more likely to report better health over time, according to a new study of 1,981 couples. This occurred above and beyond their own happiness.
“This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” says William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and principal investigator of the study. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”
The study, published online in the journal Health Psychology, examines the survey information of couples aged 50 to 94, including happiness, self-rated health, and physical activity over a six-year period. The couples are in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey.
Previous research suggests happy people are generally healthy people, but Chopik wanted to take it one step further by exploring the health effects of interpersonal relationships. There are at least three potential reasons why having a happy partner might enhance a person’s health, irrespective of one’s own happiness:
- Happy partners likely provide stronger social support such as care-taking, as compared to unhappy partners who are more likely to be focused on their own stressors.
- Happy partners may get unhappy people involved with activities and environments that promote good health such as maintaining regular sleep cycles, eating nutritious food, and exercising.
- Being with a happy partner should make a person’s life easier even if not explicitly happier. “Simply knowing that one’s partner is satisfied with his or her individual circumstances may temper a person’s need to seek self-destructive outlets such as drinking or drugs, and may more generally offer contentment in ways that afford health benefits down the road,” Chopik says.
Ed O’Brien, assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, is coauthor of the study.
Source: Michigan State University