(originally posted in the P0rtland Press Herald May 5, 2018)
“Your wife is always smiling,” I said to Jack as he was leaving an examining room in my office. “It must be a good thing,” Jack replied. “She’s never sick, and she makes me feel good, too.”
Jack was right on both accounts. We have long known that mental well-being is closely linked to good physical health in an individual, but a recent published study has demonstrated that physical health is also linked to the happiness of one’s husband or wife. Researchers have used data from almost 2,000 couples in a nationwide sample assessed periodically over 25 years. The results show that a person’s good health was independently associated with the happiness of one’s spouse. Consistently people with an unhappy partner had more physical impairments, engaged in less exercise, and rated their own health worse than those who had happy partners.
These results led the researchers to conclude that a happy spouse provided social support, and encouraged the other to eat a healthy diet and exercise more that contributed to good health. This research confirms the power of close relationships. We know when we surround ourselves with happy people, we are happier. Now we know we are healthier as well.
What is the basis of this happiness that can affect another’s health? It cannot be a simple, superficial smile or giggle related to fortuitous circumstances. To actually impact others’ well-being, there must be a deeper form of happiness related to one’s character independent of circumstances. This form of happiness is described as joy.
An example of how a happy (joyful) spouse affects her husband is tucked away at the end of the book of Proverbs. Many of the proverbs in the early chapters of the book were written by King Solomon around 900 B.C., while other sages were the authors of the proverbs in the later chapters. The last chapter of Proverbs written by King Lemuel contains an epilogue entitled “A Wife of Noble Character.”
In this chapter of the book, a wife is described as active in the home (”She gets up while it is still dark; she provides for her family” (Proverbs 31:15) and outside the home (”She considers a field and buys it” (Proverbs 31:16). She is also involved in the social issues of her community: “She opens her arms to the poor” (Proverbs 31: 20). While engaged with these activities that impact her family and community positively, she does them all with verve: “She can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31: 25). This joyful spirit, independent of everyday highs and lows, is related to her character: “She speaks with wisdom” (Proverbs 31: 26). The wife’s actions extend to how she treats her husband: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of his life” (Proverbs 31: 11). Ultimately her actions and attitude affect her husband’s life and success in the community: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31: 23).
How do we know the family in the Bible appreciates what the woman in Proverbs does? “Her husband has full confidence in her” (Proverbs 31:31) and “Her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31: 28). In the Proverb the woman’s husband also gives his personal testimonial quoted in the text for all to remember and consider: “‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all’” (Proverbs 31: 29).
I related to Jack the results of this study about how a spouse’s happiness can affect the other’s physical health. He remarked, “I believe it. Her happiness must be working. My health’s not perfect – hey, I have cancer – but I’m doing fine with treatment because I know my wife is with me. She’ll never let me down, and that means everything to me.”