‘The more meaningful you believe your life to be, the faster you’ll walk, the stronger your grip will be and the less chronic pain you’ll suffer.’

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Is your life worthwhile? Can being happy make you walk faster?

Professor Andrew Steptoe, Head of the Department of Behavioural Science and Health at University College London, set out to answer those questions and more in a study on happiness, conducted as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. He joined Ray D’Arcy to talk about his findings. The study, which covers several thousand people aged 50 and over, yielded some interesting results.

“We were interested in the extent to which there are links between feeling that we’re leading worthwhile and meaningful lives and other aspects of our experience.”

As part of the study, participants were asked to rate things they do in their life in terms of being “worthwhile”. Of course, “worthwhile” is a personal concept. But in general, those who participated in social gatherings and charitable works reported these things as feeling worthwhile. In a follow-up period of 4 years, participants who felt they were living more worthwhile lives reported better sleep, were “less likely to develop chronic pain” and were “less likely to become obese”. They had “stronger hand grip” (an indicator of muscular strength) when compared to those who ranked lower in the ratings and “seemed to walk faster” too.

Professor Steptoe told Ray that if he could ask people to take anything away from his findings, it would be identifying what makes us feel fulfilled and sticking to it.

“Getting people to think about what really matters to them and what sort of things they find satisfying and meaningful and to try and encourage people to do those things.”

A key factor seems to be social engagement. Bad news for Netflix fans.

“Those people who reported they were living more worthwhile lives watched less telly…I think remaining socially engaged and engaged in other activities, particularly ones which involve other people, is probably a good thing.”

Listen back to the full discussion on The Ray D’Arcy Show here.

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© The Listener 2019

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