A Life Course Perspective on Childhood Cheerfulness and Its Relation to Mortality Risk

Published In: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 28, no. 9, Sep. 2002, p. 1155-1165

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2001

by Leslie R. Martin, Howard S. Friedman, Joan S. Tucker, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Michael H. Criqui, Joseph E. Schwartz

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Under some conditions, cheerfulness promotes health, but cheerfulness also has been associated with unfavorable health outcomes. This study follows up the inverse relation between childhood cheerfulness and longevity found among 1,215 men and women first assessed as children by Lewis Terman in 1922. Risky hobbies, smoking, drinking, and obesity, as well as cause of death, are examined, along with adulthood personality and adjustment. Several hypotheses about mediating variables can be eliminated by these analyses; these data do hint, however, that cheerful children grow up to be more careless about their health. Although correlational and survival analyses suggest that health behaviors play a role, they are unable to explain the observed cheerfulness-mortality link, thus supporting the idea that cheerfulness in multifaceted and should not be assumed to be related to health in a simple manner.

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