Subjective Wellbeing, Health, and Ageing

February 2015
with Andrew Steptoe and Arthur A. Stone; in The Lancet 385(9968): 640-648

Search Terms: 

Subjective wellbeing and health are closely linked to age. Three aspects of subjective wellbeing can be distinguished—evaluative wellbeing (or life satisfaction), hedonic wellbeing (feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, stress, and pain), and eudemonic wellbeing (sense of purpose and meaning in life). We review recent advances in the specialty of psychological wellbeing, and present new analyses about the pattern of wellbeing across ages and the association between wellbeing and survival at older ages. The Gallup World Poll, a continuing survey in more than 160 countries, shows a U-shaped relation between evaluative wellbeing and age in high-income, English speaking countries, with the lowest levels of wellbeing in ages 45–54 years. But this pattern is not universal. For example, respondents from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe show a large progressive reduction in wellbeing with age, respondents from Latin America also shows decreased wellbeing with age, whereas wellbeing in sub-Saharan Africa shows little change with age. The relation between physical health and subjective wellbeing is bidirectional. Older people with illnesses such as coronary heart disease, arthritis, and chronic lung disease show both increased levels of depressed mood and impaired hedonic and eudemonic wellbeing. Wellbeing might also have a protective role in health maintenance. In an analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, we identify that eudemonic wellbeing is associated with increased survival; 29·3% of people in the lowest wellbeing quartile died during the average follow-up period of 8·5 years compared with 9·3% of those in the highest quartile. Associations were independent of age, sex, demographic factors, and baseline mental and physical health. We conclude that the wellbeing of elderly people is an important objective for both economic and health policy. Present psychological and economic theories do not adequately account for the variations in patterns of wellbeing with age across diff erent parts of the world. The apparent association between wellbeing and survival is consistent with a protective role of high wellbeing, but alternative explanations cannot be ruled out at this stage.