Most of us feel happier around the holidays. We smile more. We give to others. We’re encouraged to be more selfless.
As it turns out, we might be receiving an unexpected gift for all of our Christmas cheer: longer life.
Several studies have found links between kindness and longevity. One, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that providing social support increased life expectancy. The University’s Institute for Social Research followed more than 400 elderly couples over a five-year span (as part of a larger project on life changes in older couples). What they found was that those who provided no instrumental or emotional support to others were more than twice as likely to die in five years as people who helped those around them. These acts of kindness could be as simple as providing transportation to a friend, running errands for a neighbor, or making their spouse feel loved. Even after the researchers accounted for health factors (which might limit an individual’s ability to offer support), the results stood; several behaviors associated with helping others predicted a reduced risk of mortality.
Similarly, being a positive person appears to have a positive impact on one’s health span. The famous “Nun Study” by researchers at the University of Kentucky took autobiographies written by 180 Catholic nuns in the 1930s and ‘40s, analyzed the emotional content, and compared each positively or negatively charged autobiography against each nun’s longevity. Those who seemed the happiest lived 7-10 years longer than the least happy. This doesn’t mean that happiness can extend our lives, but it might help us overcome factors (health issues, etc.) that decrease our life expectancies.
So spread the cheer this holiday season and throughout the whole year. Do good and be happy, and you might just live longer as a result!