With apologies to the hundreds of machines pressing self-help books at this very moment that preach the life-changing benefits of happiness, it is incumbent upon me to say: It will not save you from death.
Of course it won’t! Death comes to us all, be we smiling or crying. But there have been numerous studies in recent years suggesting that happier people may live longer and that happiness could even help protect against some health problems, like heart disease.
According to a massive new study published in The Lancet, happiness has no such power. The data came from the Million Women Study in the U.K., which surveyed a million women between the ages of 50 and 69 (though only about 720,000 were used in this analysis). Three years after joining the study, the women filled out a questionnaire about their happiness, and during 10 years of follow-up, electronic records let the researchers know how many died, and how.
Being in ill health was associated with unhappiness (being sick is not fun), so the researchers excluded women who had already had cancer, heart disease, strokes, or chronic obstructive-airway disease. That way, they could see if it was unhappiness alone that made people more likely to die.