Benefits of happiness – the nun study
Episode #4 of the course “The science of happiness” by Manuel Kraus
Probably the most influential and mind-blowing study done that demonstrates the power of positive emotions is the so-called ‘nun study’. It started in the 1930 when a group of almost two hundred nuns were about to enter a convent. Back then, they were asked to write autobiographical sketches of themselves, reflecting on their lives and thinking about what will lie ahead.
About 70 years later, psychologists decided to go back to these diary entries and analyzed them. The researchers wanted to find out if what these 20-year old nuns wrote in their diaries could predict how the rest of their lives turned out. In particular, they were interested in predictors of longevity. They looked at how complex their sentences were – an indicator for their intelligence. They also looked at where the nuns lived. They also looked at how much they expressed their beliefs in good, measuring their devoutness.
None of these factors had an impact on how long the nuns went on to live. But there was one factor which did have an impact – a very significant one! The nuns whose journal entries had more positive content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral. At the age of 85, more than 90% (!) of the happiest nuns were still alive, whereas only about a third of the unhappiest nuns.
The research community was amazed by these findings. Clearly, the nuns who were happier when they were young lived longer because of their happiness; not the other way around. Their conclusion is very relevant for everyone going through this course. Putting effort into becoming happier will not only make you feel better. It has the potential to literally prolong your life.
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