A major study in the respected Lancet medical journal made headlines earlier this month with a surprising assertion: Happier people don't live longer. But now three professors of psychology have combined for a rebuttal in the Los Angeles Times. "Happiness does matter for your health," write Ed Diener, Sarah Pressman, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. "A lot." The findings in the Lancet were drawn from the ongoing Million Women Study in which women ages 50 to 69 were surveyed. The happiness factor is based on a single question, No. 306 of 316, in which women were asked how often they felt happy from "rarely/never" to "most of the time." About 4% of the respondents have died so far, and the researchers drew their conclusions based only on those deaths.
That methodology is weak, write the professors, especially the use of one simple question, late in a long survey, to gauge happiness. What's more, the study looked at other factors, including stress, and found they had no relationship to longevity, either. "Yet stress is a noncontroversial, established correlate of nearly all health problems," they write. "If the study's stress measure doesn't show a relationship to longevity," it should have raised red flags about drawing a similar conclusion in regard to happiness. So ignore the headlines, they advise. The Million Women Study might well have something to tell us about happiness, but not until there's data on far more than 4% of participants. "We are happy researchers," they conclude, "and so we plan to be around when that happens." Click for the full column.