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Happy spouses could improve partner's health

Happy spouses could improve partner's health
29th September 2016

Your spouse being happy could be beneficial to your health, a new study has found. Researchers have discovered that happy partners, especially among middle-aged and older adults, could mean better health for their spouse, even if they aren't particularly cheerful themselves.

Published by the American Psychological Association, the study of 1,981 middle-aged heterosexual couples showed better health over time for those with cheerful spouses, suggesting that a partner's happiness is just as important as your own when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. This is especially important in later life when a number of health concerns become more commonplace.

The principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, US, Dr William Chopik said: "This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link.Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself."

While previous research has found that happy people tend to be healthier, the researchers wanted to expand on this by looking at the ways that people's relationships can affect their health.

Researchers looked at surveys filled in by couples between the ages of 50 and 94, which allowed them to rate a number of things, including physical activity, their opinion of their health and happiness, over a period of six years. Of the participants, six per cent were Hispanic, eight per cent were African-American and 84 per cent were white.

Questions on the survey included aspects of their health, including chronic illnesses, physical impairment and amount of physical activity regularly taken. They also had to respond to questions about their partner's health.

While there was no change in the results between husband and wife, those whose partners rated their happiness as high gave themselves better health scores, even if they marked down their own happiness rating.

According to Dr Chopik, there are three possible reasons why a happy spouse may improve their partner's health, even if they are aren't particularly happy. The first is that a happy spouse will likely provide better support, making them better caretakers. Secondly, spouses who are happy may get unhappy partners to engage with activities and environments that improve their health, such as eating better and getting more exercise.

Lastly, Dr Chopik suggests that being with someone who is happy could very well make a person's life easier, even if they aren't as happy as their partner. While easier does not necessarily mean happier, it does result in less stress, which is linked to a number of health concerns.

"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," he continued.

The study was published in the American Psychological Association journal 'Health Psychology'.