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Recent research: six articles on wellbeing – meaning in life, reappraisal, positive emotions, and neighbourliness

Here are six research articles (see below for abstracts and links) loosely falling into the overall area of wellbeing.  Boyle, Barnes et al report on the association between purpose in life and mortality in older people.  They found that greater purpose in life was associated with considerably reduced mortality even when allowing for a series of possible confounders like depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of chronic medical conditions, and income.  Also showing benefits for purpose and meaning, Maselko, Gilman, et al looked at religious involvement in the USA and and its associations with psychological health - specifically links between high, medium and low tertiles (dividing the study population into thirds) of spiritual well-being and religious service attendance and lifetime risk of depression. They found that "Religious service attendance was associated with 30% lower odds of depression. In addition, individuals in the top tertile of existential well-being had a 70% lower odds of depression compared to individuals in the bottom tertile. Contrary to our original hypotheses, however, higher levels of religious well-being were associated with 1.5 times higher odds of depression".  Fascinating stuff!  There have been a whole series of reports showing that social integration helps to protect against developing depression and religious service attendance seems to be another example of potentially healthy involvement with groups and societies.  Involvement in religion at a personal level seems, at times, to be associated with a more self-questioning, self-doubting vulnerability to mood disorder.  The less specificially religion-linked, but more meaning-linked measure of existential wellbeing however was robustly associated with greater psychological health.

In further research, Haga, Kraft et al explored use of the two emotion regulation strategies - cognitive reappraisal and emotional suppression - across different countries.  I've written previous blog posts about the value of cognitive reappraisal and the potential damage caused by excessive emotional suppression.  These authors similarly report "Results showed that the use of emotion regulation strategies varied across age, gender and culture. Private self-consciousness (self-reflection and insight) was found to be a central antecedent for the use of cognitive reappraisal. Use of emotion regulation strategies predicted well-being outcomes, also after the effect of extraversion and neuroticism had been controlled for. Generally, increased use of cognitive reappraisal predicted increased levels of positive well-being outcomes, while increased use of expressive suppression predicted increased levels of negative well-being outcomes".  Cohn, Fredrickson, et al produce another in the series of fascinating papers emerging from the Positive Emotions & Psychophysiology Lab.  The article is entitled "Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience".  The authors show that moment to moment positive emotional states help people to function better and hence achieve increased life satisfaction.

The final two papers in this report look more at society and wellbeing.  Beaudoin discusses health findings in a study on "neighborliness" and states "Bonding neighborliness was associated with self-rated health and inversely associated with stress, whereas bridging neighborliness was not significantly linked to either health outcome. When also controlling for neighborhood composition, the bonding neighborliness findings remained generally consistent, while the association between bridging neighborliness and self-rated health gained significance. These results indicate the protective effects that bonding neighborliness can have on health outcomes, as well as the more modest protective effects of bridging neighborliness. These findings have implications for future research and practice, highlighting the potential of health interventions and policies that target the development of bonding social capital".  (The terms "bonding" & "bridging" have been explained in the folllowing way:  "Bonding social capital is exclusive in nature, strengthening ties within homogenous, socially-similar groups and enhancing access to internal resources, whereas bridging social capital is inclusive, strengthening ties between heterogeneous, sociallydiverse groups and enhancing access to external resources")  In another paper on social capital Snelgrove, Pikhart, et al describe "A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-rated health: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey."  They report that "Evidence for a protective association with current self-rated health was found for area social trust after controlling for individual characteristics, baseline self-rated health and individual social trust. There was no evidence for an association between area civic participation and self-rated health after adjustment".  We're social animal living in a sea of relationships.  Wellbeing is linked to so many levels of life - from individual meaning and moment to moment positive emotional states, to neighborliness and wider social trust.

Boyle, P. A., L. L. Barnes, et al. (2009). "Purpose in Life Is Associated With Mortality Among Community-Dwelling Older Persons." Psychosom Med 71(5): 574-579.  [Abstract/Full Text]  
Objective: To assess the association between purpose in life and all-cause mortality in community-dwelling elderly persons. Methods: We used data from 1238 older persons without dementia from two longitudinal cohort studies (Rush Memory and Aging Project and Minority Aging Research Study) with baseline evaluations of purpose in life and up to 5 years of follow-up to test the hypothesis that greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of mortality among community-dwelling older persons. Results: The mean {+/-} standard deviation score on the purpose in life measure at baseline was 3.7 {+/-} 0.5 (range = 2-5), with higher scores indicating greater purpose in life. During the 5-year follow-up (mean = 2.7 years), 151 of 1238 persons (12.2%) died. In a proportional hazards model adjusted for age, sex, education, and race, a higher level of purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of mortality (hazard ratio = 0.60, 95% Confidence Interval = 0.42, 0.87). Thus, the hazard rate for a person with a high score on the purpose in life measure (score = 4.2, 90th percentile) was about 57% of the hazard rate of a person with a low score (score = 3.1, 10th percentile). The association of purpose in life with mortality did not differ among men and women or whites and blacks. Further, the finding persisted after the addition of terms for several potential confounders, including depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of chronic medical conditions, and income. Conclusion: Greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality among community-dwelling older persons.

Maselko, J., S. E. Gilman, et al. (2009). "Religious service attendance and spiritual well-being are differentially associated with risk of major depression." Psychological Medicine 39(06): 1009-1017.  [Abstract/Full Text]  
Background: The complex relationships between religiosity, spirituality and the risk of DSM-IV depression are not well understood. Method: We investigated the independent influence of religious service attendance and two dimensions of spiritual well-being (religious and existential) on the lifetime risk of major depression. Data came from the New England Family Study (NEFS) cohort (n=918, mean age=39 years). Depression according to DSM-IV criteria was ascertained using structured diagnostic interviews. Odds ratios (ORs) for the associations between high, medium and low tertiles of spiritual well-being and for religious service attendance and the lifetime risk of depression were estimated using multiple logistic regression. Results: Religious service attendance was associated with 30% lower odds of depression. In addition, individuals in the top tertile of existential well-being had a 70% lower odds of depression compared to individuals in the bottom tertile. Contrary to our original hypotheses, however, higher levels of religious well-being were associated with 1.5 times higher odds of depression. Conclusions: Religious and existential well-being may be differentially associated with likelihood of depression. Given the complex interactions between religiosity and spirituality dimensions in relation to risk of major depression, the reliance on a single domain measure of religiosity or spirituality (e.g. religious service attendance) in research or clinical settings is discouraged.

Haga, S., P. Kraft, et al. (2009). "Emotion Regulation: Antecedents and Well-Being Outcomes of Cognitive Reappraisal and Expressive Suppression in Cross-Cultural Samples." Journal of Happiness Studies 10(3): 271-291.  [Abstract/Full Text
Abstract: Habitual emotional state is a predictor of long-term health and life expectancy and successful emotion regulation is necessary for adaptive functioning. However, people are often unsuccessful in regulating their emotions. We investigated the use of cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression in 489 university students in Norway, Australia, and the United States and how these strategies related to measures of well-being (affect, life satisfaction, and depressed mood). Data was collected by means of self administered questionnaires. The major aims of the study were to begin to explore the prevalence of use of cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression across gender, age and culture, possible antecedents of emotion regulation strategies, and the influence of emotion regulation upon well-being. Results showed that the use of emotion regulation strategies varied across age, gender and culture. Private self-consciousness (self-reflection and insight) was found to be a central antecedent for the use of cognitive reappraisal. Use of emotion regulation strategies predicted well-being outcomes, also after the effect of extraversion and neuroticism had been controlled for. Generally, increased use of cognitive reappraisal predicted increased levels of positive well-being outcomes, while increased use of expressive suppression predicted increased levels of negative well-being outcomes.

Cohn, M. A., B. L. Fredrickson, et al. (2009). "Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience " Emotion 9(3): 361-368.  [Abstract/Full Text]  
Happiness-a composite of life satisfaction, coping resources, and positive emotions-predicts desirable life outcomes in many domains. The broaden-and-build theory suggests that this is because positive emotions help people build lasting resources. To test this hypothesis, the authors measured emotions daily for 1 month in a sample of students (N = 86) and assessed life satisfaction and trait resilience at the beginning and end of the month. Positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction. Negative emotions had weak or null effects and did not interfere with the benefits of positive emotions. Positive emotions also mediated the relation between baseline and final resilience, but life satisfaction did not. This suggests that it is in-the-moment positive emotions, and not more general positive evaluations of one's life, that form the link between happiness and desirable life outcomes. Change in resilience mediated the relation between positive emotions and increased life satisfaction, suggesting that happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better but because they develop resources for living well.

Beaudoin, C. E. (2009). "Bonding and bridging neighborliness: An individual-level study in the context of health." Social Science & Medicine 68(12): 2129-2136.  [Abstract/Full Text]  
Although previous research provides a compelling picture of social capital's role in predicting health outcomes, only a modicum of research has tested the more detailed roles of the dimensions of bonding and bridging social capital, with no research focusing exclusively on bonding and bridging neighborliness or ethnicity. To help fill this gap in the literature, the current study measures individual-level bonding and bridging neighborliness for four U.S. ethnic groups--and then, with cross-sectional data from a 2007 national telephone survey of U.S. adults, employs ordinal logistic regression and OLS regression to test the individual-level predictors of self-rated health and stress, when controlling for BMI and demographics. Bonding neighborliness was associated with self-rated health and inversely associated with stress, whereas bridging neighborliness was not significantly linked to either health outcome. When also controlling for neighborhood composition, the bonding neighborliness findings remained generally consistent, while the association between bridging neighborliness and self-rated health gained significance. These results indicate the protective effects that bonding neighborliness can have on health outcomes, as well as the more modest protective effects of bridging neighborliness. These findings have implications for future research and practice, highlighting the potential of health interventions and policies that target the development of bonding social capital.

Snelgrove, J. W., H. Pikhart, et al. (2009). "A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-rated health: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey." Social Science & Medicine 68(11): 1993-2001.  [Abstract/Full Text]  
Social capital is often described as a collective benefit engendered by generalised trust, civic participation, and mutual reciprocity. This feature of communities has been shown to associate with an assortment of health outcomes at several levels of analysis. The current study assesses the evidence for an association between area-level social capital and individual-level subjective health. Respondents participating in waves 8 (1998) and 9 (1999) of the British Household Panel Survey were identified and followed-up 5 years later in wave 13 (2003). Area social capital was measured by two aggregated survey items: social trust and civic participation. Multilevel logistic regression models were fitted to examine the association between area social capital indicators and individual poor self-rated health. Evidence for a protective association with current self-rated health was found for area social trust after controlling for individual characteristics, baseline self-rated health and individual social trust. There was no evidence for an association between area civic participation and self-rated health after adjustment. The findings of this study expand the literature on social capital and health through the use of longitudinal data and multilevel modelling techniques.

 

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