Health and Happiness Aren't Always Linked
Are healthy people happier than seriously ill ones?
In a study described in The Journal of Experimental Psychology, a group of people with end-stage kidney failure were provided with electronic devices that prompted them to record their moods at various times throughout the day. For comparison, a group of healthy volunteers used the same devices.
When researchers tabulated the results, they found that the levels of happiness were about the same for the two groups.
The researchers, led by Dr. Jason Riis of Princeton when he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, also found that the healthy people greatly overestimated how unhappy the sick ones would be. And the sick people overestimated how happy healthy ones would be.
"For most of us," the authors write, "it would take a lot more than we think to make us permanently miserable."
For the study, 49 kidney disease patients who were undergoing dialysis sessions three times a week were given personal digital assistants, as were 49 healthy volunteers matched to the patients by age race, education and sex.
When the devices beeped, the subjects were asked to rate their mood on a 5-point scale, with 2 defined as "very pleasant" and minus 2 defined as "very unpleasant." On average, the kidney patients rated their mood as 0.70, while the healthy subjects rated it as 0.83.
The participants were also asked to describe other emotions they might be feeling, including joy and anxiety, and to describe their levels of physical comfort. And sometimes they were asked, "How do you feel about your life as a whole?"
A better understanding of how well people are able to adapt to poor health, the researchers said, could help doctors and patients make wiser choices about their medical care.
Earlier studies have also found that seriously ill patients described themselves as being happy. But those patients were not given a chance to answer questions about their mood privately and repeatedly over a period of time, Dr. Riis said, and so it was unclear how accurate their responses were.
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