In Chapter 4, Friedman & Martin discuss how happiness affects or may be affected by health. Their findings again disagreed with many of the common adages about how to live a long, healthy life. They found that those with the most cheerful and optimistic personalities actually lived shorter lives than those who were more serious, or those who worried a moderate amount. As usual, though, they presented a series of caveats to this finding. First: optimism actually does predict better health outcomes during health emergencies, as it facilitates better treatment adherence and thus encourages health-promoting behaviors. This was immediately contradicted by their claim that high levels of optimism can be detrimental long term, though. It can lead to underestimating health risks, overestimating outcomes, and being unnecessarily surprised and disheartened when things go awry. In general, I agreed with the points they made about happiness being an outcome of health, rather than a determinant of health. It’s often easy to infer causation, and I think they do a good job of point out that healthy behaviors lead to happiness–not the other way around.
Another interesting finding they presented was that neuroticism, while largely detrimental at high levels, was actually helpful when it was paired with conscientiousness. This is reassuring for me, because I am a conscientious individual, but I can definitely be neurotic at times. Unfortunately, they reported that neurotic women had far worse health effects than neurotic men, so that’s not ideal for me. However, at least the health effects weren’t as significant as those experienced by catastrophizers. In chapter 5, they reported unambiguously that catastrophic thinking decreased longevity. Interpreting misfortunes as permeating, long-lasting disasters seemed to facilitate taking riskier life paths, according to the authors. Catastrophizers were also more likely to commit suicide, which illuminates how much your world view and perception of events can affect your decisions–and your life. Overall, I thought these two chapters were pretty enlightening about what characteristics ends up having a significant influence on a person’s trajectory.