Monday, 8 October 2012
Health, happiness and preventive healthcare
‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’
It’s an old proverb that draws our attention to the fact that good health is key to happiness in life. A healthy mind resides in a healthy body, and a healthy body depends on following a healthy life-style i.e., nutritious diet (plenty of fruits and vegetable, less meat and more fish, modest intake of salt and sugar), regular exercise, and a disciplined life.
Evidence exists of the positive impact of psychological well-being on physical health and that physical functioning is influenced by mental state. Happy people live longer: ‘it does not cure illness, but prevents becoming ill’.
But, then, what is happiness? In lay term, it is ‘how much one likes the life one lives’. According to researchers, happiness as a state of mind is measurable, either through self-report (found to be fairly valid) or direct questioning. Health, for this purpose is defined narrowly as ‘absence of illness or defect’. Does happiness leads to good health (and longevity) or it is the other way round e.g., good health leads to happiness?
The next big question is: how happiness prevents illness? No precise answer has been found by the researchers but a number of hypotheses exist:beneficial effect of good mental health on immune system of the body (‘chronic unhappiness activates fight or flight response in the body’s immune mechanism’), better health behaviour (leading to healthy life-style such as taking healthy diet, regular physical exercise, not smoking etc.), and through ‘making better choices in life’. Researchers are yet to pinpoint the cause and effect relationship.
Does money buy happiness?
In a poverty stricken country like ours, it is commonly assumed that the route of all unhappiness is lack of income or money, and therefore, money can buy happiness. This is a text book dictum of economics! But is it so straight forward? In our everyday life there are plenty of examples of people with money who are unhappy as well! Well, there is the theory of ‘relative poverty’ i.e., perception of one’s own position relative to that of the neighbours/relatives/friends/social groups etc. and thus, relative unhappiness to explain these. Also, one’s own aspirations for life and opportunities to fulfill these have a role to play in increasing or decreasing happiness. There are also other factors such as marital experience, employment status and environment, and other demographic factors which affect happiness.
But then what are the implications of being happier for preventive healthcare? Plain and simple: people can be made healthier if we can make them happier! This can be done at several levels. At the individual level through helping them to take informed choices, training to lead a satisfying life (‘ability to enjoy, choose, keep developing and see meaning’), and guiding them for a happier life!
At the institutional level, this involves improving the environment where people live and work, and improving job satisfaction. At the national or country level, this may mean improving the livability of the society e.g., through improving material wealth, good governance, freedom of choice etc.
Well, let’s be happy and live longer to pursue our aspirations in life!
Veenhoven R (2008). Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies 9:449-469. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1.
Asadullah MN and Chaudhury N (2012). Subjective well-being and relative poverty in rural Bangladesh. Journal of Economic Psychology 33:940-950.
McBride M (2010). Money, happiness, and aspirations: An experimental study. Journal of Economic Behaviour & Organisation 74:262-276.