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Having a happy spouse can help you live longer, research shows

A new study published by the Association for Psychological Science has revealed that people who have a happy spouse are not only more likely to having a longer-lasting marriage, but may even have a longer-lasting life.

“The data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality, regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status,” said study author Olga Stavrova, who is a researcher at Tilburg University.

Remarkably, the analysis showed that the life satisfaction of one’s spouse was a better predictor of an individual’s mortality than his or her own life satisfaction.

“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes,” said Stavrova. “Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and well-being of individuals’ close ones.”

Life satisfaction has been previously linked to diet, exercise, and other behaviors that can affect health. People who have a happy and active spouse are more likely to have an active lifestyle as well.

According to Stavrova, the opposite is also likely to be true. “If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV – that’s how your evening will probably end up looking, as well.”

The study was focused on data from a nationally representative survey of 4,400 American couples who were over the age of 50. For up to 8 years, participants and their spouses reported on life satisfaction and various factors that may be related to mortality, such as frequency of physical activity.

The couples also completed a self-rated health measure and provided information on their gender, age, ethnicity, education, household income, partner mortality, and any chronic conditions.

By the end of the eight-year study period, about 16 percent of the participants had died. Those who passed away had most often reported lower relationship satisfaction, lower life satisfaction, and having a partner who also reported lower life satisfaction. In addition, the spouses of participants who died were also more likely to pass away within the 8-year observation period.

Ultimately, greater partner life satisfaction at the beginning of the study was associated with lower mortality risk. Stavrova found that partners who reported higher life satisfaction also had higher levels of physical activity that corresponded with participants who had higher rates of physical activity and lower rates of mortality. The findings indicate that partner life satisfaction has important consequences for health and longevity.

“This research might have implications for questions such as what attributes we should pay attention to when selecting our spouse or partner and whether healthy lifestyle recommendations should target couples (or households) rather than individuals,” said Stavrova.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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