Positive Psychological Well-Being and Mortality: A Quantitative Review of Prospective Observational Studies

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Abstract

Objective:

To review systematically prospective, observational, cohort studies of the association between positive well-being and mortality using meta-analytic methods. Recent years have witnessed increased interest in the relationship between positive psychological well-being and physical health.

Methods:

We searched general bibliographic databases: Medline, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and PubMed up to January 2008. Two reviewers independently extracted data on study characteristics, quality, and estimates of associations.

Results:

There were 35 studies (26 articles) investigating mortality in initially healthy populations and 35 studies (28 articles) of disease populations. The meta-analyses showed that positive psychological well-being was associated with reduced mortality in both the healthy population (combined hazard ratio (HR) = 0.82; 95% Confidence Interval (CI) = 0.76–0.89; p < .001) and the disease population (combined HR = 0.98; CI = 0.95–1.00; p = .030) studies. There were indications of publication bias in this literature, although the fail-safe numbers were 2444 and 1397 for healthy and disease population studies, respectively. Intriguingly, meta-analysis of studies that controlled for negative affect showed that the protective effects of positive psychological well-being were independent of negative affect. Both positive affect (e.g., emotional well-being, positive mood, joy, happiness, vigor, energy) and positive trait-like dispositions (e.g., life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, sense of humor) were associated with reduced mortality in healthy population studies. Positive psychological well-being was significantly associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality in healthy population studies, and with reduced death rates in patients with renal failure and with human immunodeficiency virus-infection.

Conclusions:

The current review suggests that positive psychological well-being has a favorable effect on survival in both healthy and diseased populations.

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