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How Does Health Affect Happiness?

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Researchers directly measure the degree to which disease disrupts daily functioning for the first time

Patients’ happiness is diminished based on the degree to which a disease disrupts daily functioning, according to a new study.

According to previous studies, many serious medical conditions (including cancer) have little impact on happiness, while other conditions, such as urinary incontinence, appear to have a lasting negative effect on happiness.

Lead author Erik Angner, associate professor of philosophy, economics and public policy at George Mason University, and his coauthors explored this difference. For the study, a sample of 383 older adults from the practices of 39 primary care physicians in Alabama was used. Researchers developed a measure termed “freedom-from-debility score” with a scale from 0 to 100. The score was based on 4 health survey questions designed to represent restrictions in physical activities and in usual role activities due to health problems.

When controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors in addition to objective and subjective health status, the researchers discovered a 1-point increase in the freedom-from-debility score was associated with a 3% reduction in the odds of reported unhappiness.

For example, a patient with urinary incontinence, whose condition imposes dramatic limitations in daily functioning, might score lower on a happiness scale than a patient with prostate cancer, whose daily functioning is not affected by his condition.

“These new results support the notion that health status is one of the most important predictors of happiness,” Angner said. “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.”

The study is published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Source: George Mason University.