New Study: Unhappiness has No Effect on Health

We’re not sure whether this is good news or bad news, but a new study published today in The Lancet has found that neither unhappiness nor happiness has a direct effect on mortality.

The findings are significant because the results come from a 10-year study of a million women in the U.K.

The widespread belief that unhappiness and stress directly cause ill health came from studies that had confused cause and effect, reports The Lancet.

Previous reports of reduced mortality being associated with happiness, with being in control, with being relaxed, or with related measures of well-being had not allowed properly for the strong effect of ill health on unhappiness and on stress.

“Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn’t make you ill,” said study author Dr. Bette Liu.

Five out of six of the women who participated in the study said they were generally happy, but one in six said they were generally unhappy.

As in other studies, unhappiness was associated with deprivation, smoking, lack of exercise, and not living with a partner. The strongest associations, however, were that the women who were already in poor health tended to say that they were unhappy, stressed, not in control, and not relaxed.

The main analyses included 700 000 women, average age 59 years.

After allowing for any differences already present in health and lifestyle, the overall death rate among those who were unhappy was the same as the death rate among those who were generally happy. The study is so large that it rules out unhappiness being a direct cause of any material increase in overall mortality, in women.

This was true for overall mortality, for cancer mortality, and for heart disease mortality, and it was true for stress as well as for unhappiness.