How to live longer: Happiness has been linked by research to increased longevity
Longevity has long been linked to happiness, and there is a multitude of evidence showing that upbeat people knock up more years
With University College London research showing increases in UK survival rates grinding to a halt this year, scientists are looking for clues as to why – and a lack of happiness may have something to do with it.
As a society we are among the unhappiest in Europe, according to recent research by the Office For National Statistics.
This could be problematic for our ability to live a long life since mood could directly affect long-term health.
How to live longer: A happier workforce is a more productive one
There is good evidence happier people tend to live longer
“There is good evidence happier people tend to live longer,” said Dr George MacKerron who is working on a new project – me@mybest – with Nick Begley, the former head of research at Headspace, in an effort to make the world’s workplaces a happier place to be.
“People who are stressed might have high blood pressure which could lead to other health problems.”
So, what exactly is happiness?
“There are three different types,” explained Dr MacKerron.
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“One, is life satisfaction – where people think about how their life is going as a whole, and it tends to be strongly related to income.
“Another, is eudaimonia, which is having a purpose in life, such as having kids, volunteering or finding meaning in your job.
“The third type is hedonia – happiness from hour to hour – which is often referred to as a ‘smiley face’ feeling.”
He explained the different types of happiness could be related, with people who have lots of happy moments in their life also likely to feel fairly satisfied with the way their lives are going.
In his research, Dr MacKerron has come across a number of proven ways to boost that ‘smiley face’ kind of happiness.
Being in green spaces
Whether a weekend walk in the countryside, or a lunch break in the park, being surrounded by nature is an instant mood-booster, according to Dr MacKerron.
“My previous research involved looking at how environment could affect people’s wellbeing,” he explained.
“In a project known as Mappiness, we gathered four million responses about mood from around 66,000 people.
“We were able to determine that people are much happier in natural environments.
“That’s even when you control lots of things that would go along with that, such as it being a sunny Sunday with your friends having a BBQ.
“Even if you take out that factor, natural environments are better.”
How to live longer: Cultural activities have been linked to increased happiness
As well as warding off dementia, physical activity has also been shown to make people happier, notes Dr MacKerron.
According to a study by the University of Vermont, just 20 minutes of exercise can lift our mood for a full 12 hours.
Going to the theatre
Topping up on culture was found to have one of the strongest feel-good effects.
Dr MacKerron said: “From previous research I did for Mappiness – an app able to map people’s moods – I found that cultural activities have the highest happiness ratings.
“They made people five to six per cent happier.
“It didn’t matter what sort of art form – museums, exhibitions, theatre – all had a positive effect.”
Practicing mindfulness and breathing exercises has also been found to increase wellbeing, says Dr MacKerron.
Indeed, a 2015 study by Kyoto University revealed that regular meditation could help increase happiness.
It boosts grey matter in a part of the brain called the precuneus which is involved in generating feelings of happiness.
How to live longer: Being amongst nature has been shown to boost wellbeing
For the me@mybest project, Dr MacKerron and Begley, are focusing on the relationship between workplaces and happiness, and are creating an app designed to better measure and improve psychological wellbeing in offices.
“One of things that came out of my previous research was that people are on the whole really unhappy at work,” revealed Dr MacKerron.
“That means anything connected with jobs had a negative effect on happiness – being at work, the working day, thinking about work.
“In fact, out of 40 activities, work was the second worst thing to being ill in bed.”
With people spending more time working than they do anything else, Dr MacKerron and Begley are seeking to find a way to help improve happiness levels at work by teaming up with employers.
They believe boosting how happy employees are will be beneficial for businesses too.
“We’ve uncovered good evidence that happy people are more productive,” explained Dr MacKerron.
“A one per cent increase in happiness is linked to 0.5 per cent increase in productivity.
“If you make people happy they become more productive, and if people are more productive, they become happier – it is a vicious cycle.”
The pair have created a tool to help people reflect on happiness, and are giving the public an opportunity to be part of the new venture via Seedrs.