We all strive for happy and loving relationships, but these also might lead to longer, healthier lives!
A recent study by Dr. Olga Stavrova of Tilburg University found that when one’s spouse reports high levels of life satisfaction, there is a significant and substantive decrease in mortality risk. This builds from past research finding that a spouse’s happiness positive impacts relationship satisfaction and career success. Her research helps demonstrate the impact that other people’s emotions can have on our health.
While many common paradigms on health largely focus on intrapersonal factors such as diet and exercise, there is an emerging body of research that has pointed to interpersonal impacts. This would suggest that not only do interpersonal emotions structure our social reality, but they impact our bodily health as well.
Importantly, Dr. Stavrova emphasized that her findings were true “regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status.”
This current study pushes that research even further by looking at 4,400 couples over fifty years old, examining the relationship between emotions and mortality rates. She also looked at mediating factors such as partner support and physical activity.
Each couple was asked to self-report their life satisfaction, perception of support from their partner, and their level of physical activity. Each participant was then reexamined several years later and was coded based on whether they were deceased during this period. Dr. Stavrova then conducted a series of statistical analyses to determine whether life satisfaction increased or decreased the likelihood of death.
Overall, she found a significant relationship between satisfaction and mortality, with each standard deviation increase in the spouse’s life satisfaction resulting in a 13 percent lower risk of death. This was partially mediated by the partner and participant’s level of physical activity. When one’s partner has higher levels of life satisfaction, they are more likely to exercise as a couple.
Dr. Stavrova summarized this finding quite succinctly: “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.”
Importantly, this impact was comparable to or even greater than other major predictors of mortality, such as household income and education. Moreover, a spouse’s life satisfaction was as powerful a predictor as one’s own life satisfaction and personality traits like neuroticism.
Readers of this blog might notice a similarity between these findings and those we reported a couple weeks ago on the relationship between walking speed/health and personality traits!
Overall, these findings help us further understanding the importance of emotion in our lives. Our emotions, as well as those of our close friends and family, can have a huge impact on our health and our mortality, making the goal of understanding other people’s emotions even more critical.