Psychology

Happiness in the Civil Service

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Science  06 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5723, pp. 761
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5723.761a

It is not surprising that negative emotional states, such as stress or depression, are associated with a higher risk of unhealthy conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. We can assess stress (cortisol) and depression (psychiatric diagnosis) in objective ways, but how can we ascertain whether positive affect (happiness) is healthful? In beginning to address this question, Steptoe et al. have collected two data sets from over 200 British civil servants (mostly happy and healthy). One contains aggregate measurements (35 time points in a working day) of physiological (cortisol) and psychological (self-ratings) status, and the other contains similar measurements recorded in a laboratory mental stress test (modified Stroop task). [See also the Day Reconstruction Method of Kahneman et al., Reports, 3 December 2004, p. 1776.] They find that cortisol and plasma fibrinogen (a predictor of coronary heart disease) levels were inversely related to happiness and that these correlations were independent of psychological distress, supporting the idea that positive affect may be associated with neuroendocrine and cardiovascular indicators of well-being. — GJC

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 102, 6508 (2005).

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