Happy ape, long life
Happiness is a highly valued quality these days. In a postmodern, post-consumerism world it seems that there is a widespread consent that happiness is more valuable than, for instance, a new car or a leather lounge suite. As revolutionary as this thought is, the new interest in happiness is sparking a plethora of research into happiness. Now a new study suggests that being happy helps you live longer and that may explain why happiness has evolved in the first place.
For the new study the researchers asked keepers who work with orang-utans to answer questions on behalf of the apes (presumably because the apes themselves had better things to do).
More than 180 orang-utans were included in the study. The keepers were asked how often the orang-utan was in a good mood and how often the ape was in a bad mood. They were asked whether the ape enjoyed its social interactions and whether it was effective at achieving its goals. All of these are measures of â€œhappinessâ€ and finally, the keepers were asked how happy they would be if they were the orang-utan in question.
The answers given by the keepers were used to assess how happy the orang-utans taking part in the study were. Seven years after the initial interviews the researchers followed up to see how the apes involved were progressing. They found that among the apes that were scored as being happier than others a significantly higher percentage were still alive seven years later. This link between longevity and happiness held true even after taking factors like sex and age into account.
Previous research has shown that genetic traits linked to happiness are shared by humans and chimpanzees. So it is likely, although not yet proven, that happiness will confer similar longevity benefits in humans.
This is interesting because in evolutionary terms it could be that a happier individual might be communicating, at a subconscious level, that they are likely to live longer (and therefore would make a good mate).
While the research does not prove a direct cause and effect link between happiness and longevity it is another reason to choose happiness.