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The key to long life could be a happy spouse, study finds

Researchers suggest the benefits go beyond just a happy life together

Photo (c) vadimguzhva - Getty Images
The old saying “happy wife, happy life” could ring true, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Association for Psychological Science.

The group found that when spouses are happy and satisfied with their lives overall, they are not only more likely to be happier in their relationships, but they could also live longer.

“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes,” said researcher Olga Stavrova. “Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and wellbeing of individuals’ close ones.”

Prioritizing well-being

To see how spouse’s overall life satisfaction -- which the researchers say is determined by several factors, including physical activity and diet -- affected their life span, the researchers analyzed data from 4,400 couples nationwide.

Over the course of the study, participants completed self-reports on their health status, as well as what their regular routines looked like and how content they were with their lives and spouses.

All of the couples involved in the study were over 50 years old, and they provided information on important demographic factors, including education, household income, gender, age, ethnicity, and spouse mortality, which included things like chronic illnesses that could impact lifespan.

The overwhelming consensus revealed that partner satisfaction was crucial to longer life. When spouses were happy with their lives, it reduced their risk of dying, and vice versa -- unhappiness led to faster death.

The researchers also found certain characteristics that played a role in participants’ likelihood of dying: those who had poor physical health, were unhappy in their lives and relationships, were older, had less money, and weren’t as educated were all more likely to have an increased risk of mortality.

At the end of the eight-year study, 16 percent of participants had a spouse die, and they were more likely to die themselves once their spouse passed.

The researchers believe there could be several possible explanations for these findings, but they did note that engaging in physical activity as a couple was beneficial to overall happiness.

“This research might have implications for questions such as what attributes we should pay attention to when selecting our spouse or partner and whether healthy lifestyle recommendations should target couples (or households) rather than individuals,” said Stavrova.

Living longer

While one recent study explored how regular exercise can lead to a longer life, this idea of spouses’ happiness affecting each other’s lifespan -- or health in general -- isn’t entirely new.

A few years ago, researchers from the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a study that showed how having a happy spouse can be better for health and emotional well-being.  

"This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link," said William Chopik, PhD, 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."

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