Happiness is generally linked to better physical health. Back in 2011, the International Association of Applied Psychology even said that those who report life satisfaction more often live four – 10 years longer than those who don’t. But is this always the case?
Athough American adults who say they’re happy more often are more likely to have healthy blood-lipid profiles, related to lower risk of heart and blood disease, this wasn’t the case in Japan. And this came despite age, gender, socioeconomic status and chronic conditions. Based on large and representative samples from Midlife studies in both countries, the researchers suggest that culture is to blame.
“Culture is to Blame”
According to one of the researchers, Jiah Yoo, “In American cultures, experiencing positive emotions is seen as desirable and is even encouraged… But in East Asian cultures, people commonly view positive emotions as having dark sides- they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks.”
Something that has largely been ignored by the scientific community until now, a similar study was conducted in 2009 from 88,175 adults in Japan aged 50-69 over 12 years. Although men’s cardiovascular health benefited from life enjoyment, the same wasn’t found for women.
Unable to account for the gender imbalance, researchers have suggested that it may be due to different responses to psychological conditions between men and women. For example, the study suggests that men’s cardiovascular health generally benefits more from social support than women’s.
But such findings for women are not unique to Japan. The UK’s Million Women Study of 719, 671 women conducted over a 10-year period found that happiness, stress levels and other wellbeing factors had no direct effect on mortality rates.
To conclude, the health benefits of happiness may depend on the culture you identify with as well as your gender.