Do Happiness and Optimism Promote Healthy and Unhealthy Food Consumption in Daily Life?
Presented at the Spring 2015 Student Research Day at Chapman University.
Research demonstrates that being happy and optimistic predicts lower risk for disease and enhanced well-being. This may be because happier people engage in healthier behaviors. However, research to date only provides cross-sectional data and cannot establish the causal direction of the relationship between positive characteristics and health behaviors. This study aims to fill this gap by experimentally investigating the relationship between positive characteristics and food consumption. We hypothesized that being happy and optimistic would lead to healthier eating patterns in daily life. The 65 participants in this study (34 men and 31 women over the age of 40 with no long-standing illnesses) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: optimism (participants write about future life goals), positive emotion (participants write about a past happy event) and control (participants write about their day’s activities without evoking emotion). To determine whether there was a change in participants’ health behaviors, participants reported their daily food consumption of vegetables, fruits, and unhealthy foods. Although data collection is still ongoing, there are no significant differences in total vegetable and fruit consumption based on condition. However, unhealthy food consumption was higher among participants in the control condition versus participants in the optimism or positive emotion conditions. The data suggests that happiness and optimism may not play a role in increasing healthy food consumption, but may play a role in decreasing unhealthy food consumption. Further research is needed to fully investigate the hypothesis, as all the limitations of the study have not been addressed.