Happy you, healthy me?

A happy spouse may actually make you healthier, according to a large new study led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Analyzing 1,981 married couples in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey, the researchers found that people with happy spouses were much more likely to report better health over time. This occurred above and beyond the person’s own happiness.

“This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” said William Chopik, MSU assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator of the study. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”

The study, published online in the journal Health Psychology, examined the survey information of couples aged 50 to 94, including happiness, self-rated health and physical activity over a six-year period.

Previous research suggests happy people are generally healthy people, but Chopik wanted to take it one step further by exploring the health effects of interpersonal relationships. He said there are at least three potential reasons why having a happy partner might enhance a person’s health, irrespective of one’s own happiness:

*Happy partners likely provide stronger social support such as caretaking, as compared to unhappy partners who are more likely to be focused on their own stressors.

*Happy partners may get unhappy people involved with activities and environments that promote good health such as maintaining regular sleep cycles, eating nutritious food and exercising.

*Being with a happy partner should make a person’s life easier even if not explicitly happier. “Simply knowing that one’s partner is satisfied with his or her individual circumstances may temper a person’s need to seek self-destructive outlets such as drinking or drugs, and may more generally offer contentment in ways that afford health benefits down the road,” Chopik said.

The paper is titled “Happy you, healthy me? Having a happy partner is independently associated with better health in oneself.” Chopik’s co-author is Ed O’Brien, assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.

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