Unhappiness is not linked to increased mortality, study finds

Researchers have ruled out a direct link between unhappiness and ill health causing an early death

Happiness has no direct effect on mortality and unhappiness and stress do not directly cause ill health, a study of one million UK women has found.

The investigation, published in The Lancet, was part of the UK Million Women Study.

It included tracking 700,000 women with an average age of 59 over ten years to see if self-rated happiness scores could be linked to the death rates of the 30,000 women who died during that period.

After allowing for health and lifestyle factors, the overall death rate among those who were unhappy was the same as the death rate for those that were happy.

Previous research linking stress and unhappiness with ill health had confused cause and effect, said the researchers.

They concluded the study was large enough to rule out unhappiness as a direct cause of increased mortality in women.

The report said life-threatening poor health can cause unhappiness and that is why it is associated with increased mortality. 

The lead author, Bette Liu, now at the University of New South Wales, Australia said: ‘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 ten-year study of a million women.’

Co-author Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, said: “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.'

Read the study here

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