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Be happy. Live longer.

No, it’s not that simple, but new research says happy lives are longer — by 35%.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that those who reported feeling happiest had a 35% reduced risk of dying compared with those who reported feeling least happy.

Rather than rely on recollections about their feelings of happiness as in earlier studies, this British study of 3,853 participants ages 52-79 rated their feelings at different times on one particular day. Five years later, researchers recorded the number who died and controlled for a variety of factors, including age, gender, health, wealth, education and marital status.

This approach “gets closer to measuring how people actually feel” rather than relying on recollections or general questions about well-being, says epidemiologist Andrew Steptoe, a psychology professor at University College in London, who co-authored the study.

How happy a person is at any point in time, he says, is a product of “some background disposition; some people tend to be happier than others,” but also “what they are doing, who they are with, and other features of that point in time. Both are important.”

“It’s perfectly true that someone’s happiness over a single day will be affected by what happens to them over that period,” Steptoe says. “However, survey experts and psychologists have come to the view that in many ways, this is a better approach to understanding how people actually feel than asking them general questions about how happy they are. Responses to general questions are influenced strongly by personality, by what people think they ‘ought’ to say and by recollections that might not be quite accurate,” Steptoe says.

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