A Happy Wife; A Happy Life

Want to live longer? Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, drink lots of water, manage your stress, and keep your spouse happy.

Yes, that’s right. It turns out that according to a new study out of Tiburg University in the Netherlands, the maxim, happy wife, happy life, is well, true – and quite predictive of longevity.

Examining the data from a nationally representative survey of about 4,400 couples in the United States who were over the age of 50, Olga Stavrova followed them for eight years while they and their spouses reported on life satisfaction and various factors hypothesized to be related to mortality, including perceived partner support and frequency of physical activity. Participants also completed a self-rated health measure and provided information related to their morbidity (as measured by number of doctor-diagnosed chronic conditions), gender, age at the beginning of the study, ethnicity, education, household income, and partner mortality. Deaths over the course of the study were tracked using the National Death Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or spouses’ reports.

What Stavrova found should have us all running out to buy flowers (or maybe wine). As she explains, “The data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality, regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status,” (Stavrova et al., 2019).

Even more compelling was that spouses’ life satisfaction was a better predictor of participants’ mortality than participants’ own life satisfaction. Participants who had a happy partner at the beginning of the study were less likely to pass away over the next 8 years compared with participants who had less happy partners (Stavrova et al., 2019).

While life satisfaction is known to be associated with behaviors that can affect health, including diet and exercise, likely people who have a happy, active spouse, are more inclined to have an active lifestyle themselves. And according to Stavrova, the opposite is also likely to be true.

She explains, “If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV – that’s how your evening will probably end up looking, as well.”

The association between partner life satisfaction and mortality risk held even after accounting for major sociodemographic variables, self-rated health and morbidity, and partner mortality. However, perceived partner support was not related to lower participant mortality. Instead, higher partner life satisfaction was related to more partner physical activity, which corresponded to higher participant physical activity, and lower participant mortality (Stavrova et al., 2019).

Understanding what makes up our ‘social environment’ should include not only who we spend time with, but also, whether they are happy people – and especially when we consider who we are going to call our partners.