It turns out, ‘keeping your wife (or husband) happy is the secret to a happy life’ isn’t just sage advice: It’s one backed up by science. A study from Tilburg University in the Netherlands revealed that a happy spouse not only leads to a long marriage but a longer lifespan as well. The study was published in Psychological Science.
A fuller life, thanks to a happy spouse
Many studies have shown that life satisfaction is linked to longevity. However, these mostly center on how the perception of a person affects himself (intrapersonal) rather than how other people surrounding the subject affects him (interpersonal). When it comes to interpersonal research, scientists have focused on immediate family members and work environments. These include children, superiors, co-workers, and relatives. (Related: Happiness and Life Satisfaction Lead to Better Health.)
The spouse, however, holds the top seat – given that he/she is the person who interacts and affects a subject the most. Numerous studies have linked that a happy spouse contributes to a long marriage, thus, suggesting a happier life. A recent study has also found that spousal life satisfaction indirectly affects a subject’s self-rated health.
For the study, lone researcher Olga Stavrova wanted to take the research on these interpersonal effects even further. She decided to find out if spousal life satisfaction has a connection to a subject’s mortality.
Stavrova used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a national panel study conducted by the University of Michigan and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging which collected data on life satisfaction and other factors that are believed to contribute to mortality.
Her findings revealed that among the 16 percent of the subjects that died, most of their partners reported lower life satisfaction. Spouses of the subjects who died had an increased all-death risk within the duration of the study, compared to those whose spouses were still alive.
This meant that spousal life satisfaction was linked to mortality, regardless of their partners’ socioeconomic or demographic backgrounds. The mortality risk for subjects who had happy spouses was lower than those who had unhappy ones. Notably, the level of spousal life satisfaction was a better predictor of a subject’s mortality – even more than the subject’s own life satisfaction.
“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes. Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and well-being of individuals’ close ones,” Stavrova explained.
She also listed some plausible explanations for these results. From the gathered data, she noticed that perceived partner support did not necessarily correspond with lower subject mortality. However, higher spousal life satisfaction was linked to more partner physical activity. Consequently, this may encourage the subject to also pursue a more active lifestyle and potentially increases his/her lifespan.
The study highlighted the importance of considering peers and family when it comes to health. While the research has been conducted on Americans, Stavrova believes that this also applies to individuals in other areas of the world.