It’s no secret that happiness and health go hand-in-hand. If you have fewer aches and pains, you’ll feel happier, and if you’re happy, you’ll be able to cope with stress and not let it negatively affect your health. Studies have also shown that happiness can strengthen our hearts, boost our immune systems, help fight disease and lengthen our lives.

Researchers at Michigan State University took this idea one step further to find out how relationships affect our health. In their study of 1,981 heterosexual couples age 50 and over, they found that people with a happy spouse were healthier. The study followed the couples over a six-year period, monitoring physical impairment, illness and physical activity, as well as happiness and life satisfaction.

“This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” says William Chopik, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at MSU and lead author of the study. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”

So how is this possible? How can being married to a happy person make us healthier?

If your spouse is happy, they probably have healthy habits and attitudes that will rub off on you. This includes taking care of their bodies, such as exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep, but it also includes habits that nurture emotional health. A happy spouse may be skilled at living in the present, not sweating the small stuff and generally living with a positive outlook. These traits may influence your way of thinking, leading to positive changes in your own health.

Happy people have more to give. If your spouse is happy, they will be better able to take care of you and give you the support you need. This will result in less stress and better health and happiness for you.

Knowing that your partner is happy takes pressure off of you. You won’t beat yourself up trying to “make” them happy, a strategy that often backfires on us and makes us miserable.

Happy people understand the importance of connection, and will value your relationship. If your spouse is happy, they will have the tools to work through disappointments, arguments and hardship, and will be less likely to turn to anger and blame. They will be devoted to working through issues with you, resulting in a healthy relationship which will improve your health and well-being.

Rather than going out of our way to marry a happy person in order to be happy ourselves, we should all take steps to improve our own lives, such as taking care of our bodies, practicing gratitude and appreciation and nurturing our relationships. If we’re happy, our spouses are sure to follow – resulting in greater health all around.

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