Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Hedonism Versus Finding Meaning In Life: Which Makes You Happier And Healthier?

Nowadays, a lot of folks pursue happiness as if it were their primary mission in life. But what is happiness?

Philosophers tell us there are at least 2 kinds. There is so-called “hedonic well-being” which is short-term pleasure derived from things like a tasty meal, great sex or a day in the amusement park.  Then there’s “eudaimonic well-being” which comes from living with a sense of purpose, which is usually actualized by participating in meaningful activities like volunteering for a worthy cause, raising children or caring for others.

allisforgiven 300x250 How to Measure HappinessScientists have recently joined their philosopher brethren in the analysis of happiness. Remarkably, they have produced evidence which suggests that people who are driven to achieve eudaimonic  happiness actually have better health outcomes than those motivated to achieve hedonic happiness. They are more likely to remain intact cognitively, for example. They even tend to live longer.

For example, in a cohort study of 7,000 people known as MIDUS (the Mid-Life in the US National Study of Americans), Carol Ryff and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have tried to identify social and behavioral factors that predict one’s ability to maintain good health into old age. The team has focused on sociocultural sub-populations known to be associated with poor health outcomes…things like low education level.

Ryff’s group showed that people with low education level and high levels of eudaimonic well-being had lower blood levels of interleukin-6, a bio-marker of inflammation that has been linked to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, even after accounting for hedonic well-being into account. Their write-up appears in Health Psychology.

As well, a study of 950 community-dwelling elderly folks linked eudaimonic well-being to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. During their 7-year follow-up of this cohort, David Bennett and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center found that participants who reported having less of a sense of purpose in their lives were at least twice as likely to develop the debilitating condition as those who reported a greater sense of purpose. Their write-up appears the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

A separate study of the same cohort revealed that people with a greater sense of purpose were more likely to be able to care for themselves, manage their money and walk up and down stairs. Not only that, but  they were 57% less likely to die than their peers who had a low sense of purpose in life. In both studies, the associations remained even after scientists accounted for other determinants of happiness such as depression, underlying medical conditions and financial status.

What explains this?
We don’t yet understand the cognitive and physiologic underpinnings of these associations, and even more fundamentally, these studies need to be validated by other scientists. That said, it’s interesting to note that some studies have found folks with high levels of eudaimonic well-being don’t handle emotional input the same was as folks who with low levels. For example, fMRI-based studies have shown that people in the former (but not the latter) group tend to respond to such input with pronounced activity in the pre-frontal cortex a region involved with goal-setting, memory, language and other forms of higher-order thinking.

It is possible therefore, that people with a sense of purpose are more able to appraise their environment and see the positive side of things, says Cariem van Reekum of the University of Reading. In other words people like this think, “This event is difficult but I can do it.”

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »