For better or for worse is more than part of the marriage vow, it may determine a spouse’s health as well. A recent study shows a correlation between a happy marriage and good health.
A study led by William Chopik, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University showed that a partner’s happiness is affected by their other half’s health and happiness. The researchers surveyed 1,981 heterosexual couples age 50-94. The diverse population was 84 percent white, eight percent African-American and six percent Hispanic.
The participants were asked questions about their health, lifestyle, any physical impairment, their level of physical activity, concerns about their spouse’s health, their happiness and satisfaction with life over a six-year time span. The results were the same for both sexes.
Dr. Chopik says,
For better or for worse, daily life inevitably involves the presence of other people and happiness cannot exist in a vacuum. Testing an older adult population offers insights for better understanding health trajectories in later years of life, when the average person’s health is particularly at risk. Identifying novel factors that may enhance health at these stages is particularly valuable. The presence of one person’s sickness may be the absent smile of another.
Participants with healthy partners were significantly more likely to report better health, experience less physical impairment and exercise more frequently than participants with unhealthy partners even when accounting for the impact of their own happiness and other life circumstance.
None of these effects diminished over time, suggesting that having a happy partner could afford surprisingly long-lasting effects on a person’s own health.
The study showed that happy people are healthy people. Those with a happy partner are likely to provide stronger social support, like caretaking. Unhappy partners, on the other hand, are more focused on their own stressors. Happy people get their partners involved in healthy habits, like healthy nutrition, regular sleep and exercise. Unhappy people gravitate toward unhealthy activities like drinking or smoking. Essentially, a happy person makes life easier and happier.
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.
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.