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Unhappiness And Stress Do Not Lead To An Increase Risk In Mortality, New Study Finds

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

A new study led by Dr. Bette Liu of the University of South Wales in Australia found that unhappiness and stress do not increase risk of mortality.

This finding was reached by Dr. Liu and colleagues by conducting an analysis of 719,671 women who were part of the UK's Million Women Study.

Honor Whiteman of Medical News Today reports, “A median age of 59 years, the women were recruited to the study between 1996-2001. Three years after enrollment, they were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their health and feelings of stress, happiness, control and relaxation.”

“Around 39% of the women reported being happy most of the time, 44% said they were usually happy, while 17% said they were unhappy.”

“Over the next 10 years, 31,531 of the women died - as determined by electronic record linkage. The team analyzed mortality incidence from all causes, cancer and heart disease.”

After controlling for pre-existing differences in health and lifestyle, the resesarchers found that rates of all-cause mortality, heart disease mortality and cancer mortality over the 10-year follow-up were the same between both happy and unhappy women.

"After adjustment for these factors, no robust evidence remains that unhappiness or stress increase mortality or that being happy, relaxed, or in control reduces mortality," write the authors.

They say that previous studies associating unhappiness with increased mortality or happiness with reduced mortality have not accounted for how ill health impacts a person's happiness or feelings of stress.

"Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect. Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but the UK Million Women Study shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates,” said co-author Prof. Sir Richard Peto, of the UK's University of Oxford.

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