Can healthy lifestyles make us happy?

Fruit, vegetables and exercise influence future happiness and delayed gratification could be the key, says research.

Research has shown healthy lifestyles lead to increased wellbeing and happiness. However, scientists didn’t know whether people eat healthier and exercise more because they are happy or happy because they eat healthier and exercise.

Researchers from the Kent School of Economics and Reading School of Economics in the UK were the first to unravel the relationship between healthy lifestyles and happiness.

For the study, the team analysed data from over 14000 men and women participating in the Understanding Society Survey in the UK, which has gathered information on lifestyle behaviours such as diet, exercise, and psychological wellbeing since 2009.

During the fifth phase of the survey, researchers measured how much control people believed they had in their lives and their ability to delay gratification, answering questions such as, “I would have a hard time sticking with a special healthy diet” and “I always tried to eat healthily because it pays off in the long run”.

By measuring the respondent’s ability to delay gratification and beliefs about control, the researchers separated the impact of lifestyle on happiness from the opposite effect of happiness on lifestyle.

The results published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found significant links between lifestyle choices and feelings of control in life and longer-term happiness. It seems to delay immediate choices in favour of future benefits make people happier in the long term.

“Delaying gratification may influence both F&V consumption and life satisfaction by enabling individuals to feel they have control over their lives. Individuals with an ‘internal’ as opposed to an ‘external’ locus of control are more likely to have healthy habits such as eating well and exercising regularly, drinking moderately, and avoiding tobacco”, explained the authors to Psychology Today.

“If a better lifestyle not only makes us healthier but also happier, then it is a clear win-win situation,” said Dr Adelina Gschwandtner in a press statement.

Reference and source:

Adelina Gschwandtner, Sarah Jewell, Uma S. Kambhampati. “Lifestyle and Life Satisfaction: The Role of Delayed Gratification.” Journal of Happiness Studies (First published: August 20, 2021) DOI: 10.1007/s10902-021-00440-y

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