Experts have long debated the influence of health on an individual’s level of happiness with life. A new study suggests the real issue is the impact of a disease on a person’s ability to perform normal daily activities.
An interdisciplinary research team led by George Mason University’s Erik Angner, Ph.D., discovered reduced happiness is related to the degree in which a disease disrupts daily functioning.
Previous research has found that many serious medical conditions, including cancer, have a surprisingly small impact on happiness. Yet less severe conditions, such as urinary incontinence, seem to have a lasting negative effect on happiness.
In the study, researchers investigated the issue to determine the difference in feelings.
To do this, they developed a measure called the “freedom-from-debility score” based on four health survey questions explicitly designed to represent limitations in physical activities and in usual role activities because of health problems.
This study is the first to use a direct measure of the degree to which disease disrupts daily functioning.
The authors found that when controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors in addition to objective and subjective health status, a one-point increase in the freedom-from-debility score (on a scale from 0 to 100) was associated with a three-percent reduction in the odds of reported unhappiness.
For example, a patient with prostate cancer, whose daily functioning is not affected by his condition, might score higher on a happiness scale than a patient with urinary incontinence, whose condition imposes dramatic limitations in daily functioning.
This finding is consistent with an earlier study that found participants with a history of cancer reported being significantly happier than those with urinary incontinence.
The current study was conducted using a sample of 383 older adults recruited from the practices of 39 primary care physicians in Alabama.
“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