New WHO study asks, 'How happy are you with your lot in life?'


Researchers are asking people throughout Britain to describe how happy they are with their lot in life to help improve the effect of the healthcare they receive.

The researchers have set up an online survey to collect information on the factors that contribute to the quality of life of people in Britain.

The results will be used to create a survey that doctors can use to assess a patient's perception of their quality of life and work out the potential impact of medical intervention on their everyday lives.

This is important because a person's perception of their quality of life can, for example, influence how quickly they recover from an operation or make a difference to the psychological impact they experience when they become ill. In the U.S. for example, the availability of accessible health and social care is one of the most important influences on quality of life," said Professor Skevington, who heads the WHO Field Center for the Study of Quality of Life at the University of Bath. "It is not so much a country's standard of living that has an affect on quality of life, but more the meaning that these resources have for your life. For example, extensive living space is important in the U.S. but is less important in Japan, an equally developed country."

The on-line survey, which is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission, asks people questions about their experiences over a two-week period, their ability to do activities and their satisfaction with various important aspects of their life. Respondents will then be able to print out a quality of life profile that includes a graphical analysis of their physical health, psychological well being, social relationships, environment and overall quality of life.

"Surgeons tell us that they can do exactly the same procedure on two similar people, but whilst one is back at work within a week, the other can become depressed and disabled by their situation. It is the patient's perception of how the operation affects them that is the greatest influence on the difference," said Skevington.

"In a nutshell, quality of life is about people's perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns," said Skevington. "This survey is also a useful tool for people to take stock of how they perceive their own quality of life and look for areas where they can redress any unbalance that may exist."

The survey questionnaire the WHOQOL - has been developed over the last decade through a collaboration of researchers and clinicians with focus groups of users throughout the world, to take into account of nuances in people's perception of life quality evident in different cultures, religions and other belief systems. This has helped to highlight the differences in perceptions of quality of life in different cultures and countries. Skin color in India can affect a person's quality of life, feeling secure is important to Israelis, while in the UK simply feeling 'fed up' can have a detrimental effect on life quality.

Global studies have already found that in Britain, a person's perception of a high quality life is closely linked to their feelings of happiness and contentment.

However, in other cultures happiness comes out as low as 17th, among the 25 aspects of quality of life that were measured.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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