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* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.

 

Why a Happy Marriage Matters in Old Age

"What’s Love Got to Do With It? Social Functioning, Perceived Health, and Daily Happiness in Married Octogenarians. "

Robert J. Waldinger. Psychology and Aging Vol 25(2), June 2010, 422–431.

What role does love have on health? 47 heterosexual couples, all with women over 60 years old and men over 80 years old, were surveyed each evening over the course of an eight-day period, reporting their marital satisfaction, time spent with others, and perceived happiness. The results suggest that more time spent with others, particularly one’s spouse, is linked to greater happiness. More significant, however, was the relationship between marital satisfaction, happiness, and physical health: Among people more satisfied with their marriage, declines in physical health didn’t bring declines in happiness, but the same wasn’t true for other people, even if they spent a lot of time with others—their happiness suffered when their health suffered. It seems that a satisfying marriage protects older people’s happiness levels from the pains of getting older. —Bernie Wong

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Imagine Your ‘Best Possible Self’

"Manipulating Optimism: Can Imagining a Best Possible Self Be Used to Increase Positive Future Expectancies? "

Peters, Madelon L., Flink, Ida K., Boersma, Katja, and Linton, Steven J. The Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol 5(3), May 2010, 204-211.

This study asked participants to think for one minute about their “best possible self” in the future—to imagine that everything has gone as well for them as it possibly could. Alternatively, other participants were asked to think about a typical day in their life for one minute. Then participants in both conditions wrote for 15 minutes about their thoughts. Finally, participants were asked to imagine as vividly as possible what they had just written about. Results suggest that the “best possible self” exercise effectively increased participants’ levels of positive emotions and led to a more positive outlook on the future. A particularly encouraging finding was that this exercise was effective for people regardless of whether they previously had an optimistic disposition or not. —Neha John-Henderson

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Even Brief Mindfulness Training Brings Benefits

"Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training "

Zeidan, Fadel, et al. Consciousness and Cognition. Volume 19(2), June 2010, 597-605.

Research has shown that long-term meditation practice promotes positive, lasting changes in people’s mood, immune systems, and ability to regulate their emotions. This study found that people who for the first time receive a brief training in mindfulness—a meditative, moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts and surroundings—enjoy some of the same cognitive and emotional benefits as experienced meditators. In particular, people who received four days of mindfulness meditation training showed greatly improved performance on tasks that required participants to sustain attention over a period of time, which the authors believe was because the training made participants less tired and anxious. A control group that listened to recorded books over the same time period didn’t enjoy the same benefits. The authors don’t suggest that brief mental training is as effective as extensive training, but their study demonstrates that there are more immediate benefits to practicing mindfulness meditation. —Neha John-Henderson

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