Greater life satisfaction in adults older than 50 years of age is related to a reduced risk of mortality, shows a new study.
The Chapman University researchers also found that variability in life satisfaction across time increases risk of mortality, but only among less satisfied people. The study involved nearly 4,500 participants who were followed for up to nine years.
Researcher Julia Boehm said that although life satisfaction is typically considered relatively consistent across time, it may change in response to life circumstances such as divorce or unemployment. Boehm added that some people may adapt more readily to new situations and thus appear to have relatively stable life satisfaction and others may not adapt as quickly. If people repeatedly encounter distressing life events that diminish their life satisfaction, then fluctuations in lower levels of satisfaction seem to be particularly harmful for longevity.
Over the course of the study, the researchers learned that as participants' life satisfaction increased, the risk of mortality was reduced by 18%. By contrast, greater variability in life satisfaction was associated with a 20% increased risk of mortality. In combination, individuals with high levels of life satisfaction tended to have reduced risk of mortality regardless of how their life satisfaction varied over time.
Taken together, the findings from this study suggest that fluctuating levels of life satisfaction matter for mortality risk only when life satisfaction is also relatively low. Extreme variability in psychological states is often associated with mental-health disorders, so considering the variability in psychological characteristics can add insight into health-related outcomes such as longevity. The study appears in Journal Psychological Science