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Your life partner's happiness extends your life span

A life partner who is happy can make you live longer. This is evident form a study that Olga Stavrova, a social psychologist at Tilburg University, published in Psychological Science.

Stavrova used the data from 4372 couples, who participated in the US Health and Retirement Study. The participants in that study were people over 50. In 2006 they had answered questions about themselves and their relationships. Then, the researchers followed them for eight years.

The happier the partners of the study participants were, the less likely the participants were to die. A happy life partner therefore extends your life span.

Your life partner's happiness extends your life

The positive effect of the happiness of a life partner was robust, Stavrova concled after examining all sorts of other alternative explanations. For example, a relationship with a happy person may be more likely to succeed than a relationship with an unhappy individual. Scientists already know that stable relationships extend the lifespan. Is that the explanation?

No, Stavrova discovered. Yes, relationships with happy partners were more likely to succeed than relationships with unhappy partners, and lasted longer. But when the researcher corrected for this effect, the happiness of a partner still decreased the chance of the participant's death.

Could happy partners extend the participants' life span by providing more support than unhappy partners? That also does not explain the link, Stavrova discovered.

Yes, study participants with a happy partner did receive more support than study participants with an unhappy partner, but there was no association between support in a relationship and longer life.

Perhaps people with a happy partner live healthier than people with an unhappy partner. Maybe they move more.

That was indeed the case, but this effect could not explain the positive effect of a happy partner on the lifespan.

Another possible explanation would be that if your partner is naturally happy, you might be too. That's why you are together. Birds of a feather flock together. Sounds logical, but no. This could not explain the association either.

"Although most existing research on predictors of mortality has focused nearly exclusively on individuals' own characteristics, the present analyses revealed that the characteristics of a person who is close to an individual, such as a spouse, might be an equally important determinant of that individual's mortality", writes Stavrova.

"Continuing this line of research, future studies might explore whether the interpersonal effect of life satisfaction on mortality is restricted to (marital) dyads or whether it extends to larger social networks."

"To conclude, happiness is a desirable trait in a romantic partner, and marriage to a happy person is more likely to last than is marriage to an unhappy person. The present study showed that having a happier spouse is associated not only with a longer marriage but also with a longer life."

Psychol Sci. 2019 Mar 21:956797619835147. doi: 10.1177/0956797619835147. [Epub ahead of print].

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