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It may seem pretty obvious, but scientists have confirmed that happy, smiley people are generally healthier and less at risk from dropping down dead than their miserable counterparts.

This, as New Scientist reports, is because those with a spring in their step have "healthier levels of key body chemicals" which may cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Researchers at University College London probed 216 middle-aged men and women as part of an ongoing "Whitehall II" study of civil servants*. The group was wired up with heart rate and blood pressure monitors which automatically collected data at 33 points during the day. They were later asked how happy they felt during the last five minutes and at the 33 key points.

Furthermore, the guinea pigs volunteered saliva samples eight times during a working day - to gauge their cortisol levels - and were on one occasion subjected to a "mildly stressful" task while researchers monitored their biological response. And just to make sure the whole thing was properly balanced, the UCL squad factored in socioeconomic position, age and gender.

The upshot of the whole process was that happy punters have less stress hormone cortisol - linked to hypertension and diabetes. Team member and clinical psychologist, Jane Wardle, said: "The happier you were, the lower your cortisol levels during the day. For men, but not for women, the happier you were the lower your average heart rate was."

What's more, "the individuals who said they were happy nearly every time they were asked had lower levels of a blood protein called fibrinogen following the stressful task." Fibrinogen makes your blood "sticky" and is part of the clotting process, although high levels can presage future heart problems.

Wardle concluded: "This study showed that whether people are happy or less happy in their everyday lives appears to have important effects on the markers of biological function known to be associated with disease. Perhaps laughter is the best medicine."

Which is very good news for those irrepressibly cheerful workmates who spend all their time cracking jokes around the water cooler, and a dire warning for those who spend the entire day scowling behind their desks. ®

* Yes, we know - a happy civil servant? Derisive emails to UCL, please.

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