A happy childhood leads to better health in adulthood, study finds
According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, positive childhood memories lead to better health later in life. Individuals who can look back on their early life with fondness, particularly those who had close bonds with their parents, have fewer chronic illnesses and less depression in older adulthood.
Dr. William J. Chopik from Michigan State University is the study’s lead author.
“We know that memory plays a huge part in how we make sense of the world – how we organize our past experiences and how we judge how we should act in the future. As a result, there are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us,” said Dr. Chopik. “We found that good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly through the ways that they reduce stress or help us maintain healthy choices in life.”
Dr. Chopin explained that an association was previously established between positive memories and good health in young adults, including a higher quality of personal relationships, lower incidence of substance abuse, less depression, and fewer health problems. The researchers wanted to investigate this relationship among older adults.
The team used data from two nationally representative surveys, with a total of more than 22,000 participants. The surveys included questions about perceptions of parental affection, overall health, chronic conditions, and symptoms of depression.
Participants in both groups who received higher levels of affection from their mothers in early childhood were found to have better physical health and fewer depressive symptoms later in life. Those who reported that they received more support from their fathers also experienced fewer depressive symptoms.
“The most surprising finding was that we thought the effects would fade over time because participants were trying to recall things that happened sometimes over 50 years ago,” said Dr. Chopin. “One might expect childhood memories to matter less and less over time, but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood.”
The study is published in the journal Health Psychology.