Health And Happiness Really Are Related
November 14, 2012

Study Shows Health And Happiness Really Are Related

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from George Mason University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of Chicago, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School recently revealed a new study indicating that health could impact happiness.

In particular, the findings showed that disruption of the body´s daily functions was related to decreases in happiness. Previous studies have observed how happiness had less of a relationship with serious medical issues like cancer, but a strong correlation with everyday medical conditions like incontinence. The researchers aimed to look at the difference between the two.

“These new results support the notion that health status is one of the most important predictors of happiness,” explained the study´s lead author Erik Angner, an associate professor at George Mason University's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, in a prepared statement.

“A better understanding of the complex relationship between health status and subjective well-being could have important implications for the care and treatment of patients and could lead to interventions that could dramatically improve patient quality of life.”

Participants in the study included 383 older adults who were under the primary care of 39 physicians in Alabama. In the study, the team of investigators utilized a so-called “freedom-from-debility score,” a metric that tracked four health survey questions along with responses regarding difficulties with physical activities and the role of these daily activities. The scientists believe that the study they conducted is the first of its kind to directly measure the point at which happiness is affected by health problems.

“Those who suffer illness compensate by deriving more happiness or satisfaction from life domains other than health — including work, family life, etc. — by experiencing improvements in other domains and/or by assigning greater weight to those other domains. It follows from both of these hypotheses that, insofar as a medical,” wrote the researchers in the article.

Based on the findings, the researchers discovered a one-point increase in the score for freedom-from-debility translated to a three-percent decrease in unhappiness. As such, a patient who is diagnosed with prostate cancer may score higher on the happiness scale than someone without a potentially fatal illness if the cancer does not directly impact daily functioning. On the other hand, an individual diagnosed with urinary incontinence who becomes limited in his or her daily activities may score lower on the happiness scale.

The team of investigators noted that an understanding of the relationship between heath status and well-being could allow for better treatment and care for patients.

“These results support the contention that health status is one of the most important predictors of happiness,” stated the authors. “The person´s social environment is obviously important in determining the extent to which disease disrupts daily functioning. Using an approach that accounts for additional psychological and social factors is critical to explain why subjective health status and disruption of daily functioning were associated with happiness while objective health status was not.”