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Measuring GNH (“Gross National Happiness”)

This evening, when I fin­ished clean­ing up the kitchen after our fam­ily din­ner, I glanced at the cur­rent issue of the Econ­o­mist. The cover fea­tures this head­line: the Joy of Grow­ing Old (or why life begins at 46). It’s a light read, as this so-influential mag­a­zine goes, but nice to con­tem­plate if you’re, say, 50 years old and won­der­ing about the future.

The article’s the­sis is this: Although as peo­ple move towards old age they lose things they treasure — vitality, men­tal sharp­ness and looks — they also gain what peo­ple spend their lives pur­su­ing: Happiness.

Fig. 1 (above): “A snap­shot of the age dis­tri­b­u­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being in the United States,” Stone, et al: PNAS, May 2010 (y-axis: “WB” stands for well-being.)

Young adults are gen­er­ally cheer­ful, accord­ing to the Econ­o­mist’s mys­te­ri­ous author or authors. Things go down­hill until midlife, and then they pick up again. There’s a long dis­cus­sion in the arti­cle on pos­si­ble rea­sons for the U-shaped curve of self-reported well-being. Most plau­si­ble among the expla­na­tions offered, which might be kind of sad except that in real­ity (as opposed to ideals) I think it’s gen­er­ally a good thing, is the “death of ambi­tion, birth of accep­tance.” The con­cept is explained: “Maybe peo­ple come to accept their strengths and weak­nesses, give up hop­ing to become chief exec­u­tive or have a pic­ture shown in the royal Acad­emy…” And this yields contentedness. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

I’m Glad Economists Aren’t Practicing Medicine

I was invited to speak at the National Library of Medicine’s 2010 Annual Conference. Today I heard fellow speaker Uwe Reinhardt, Ph.D., discuss healthcare economics, and although his presentation was entertaining, as a physician I found it to be rather disturbing.

On the one hand I understand Reinhardt’s desire to engage Americans in a rational conversation about limited healthcare resources. My friend Dr. Rich Fogoros has been calling for this for many years. Yet, I was disappointed by his enthusiastic reductionism — that peoples’ lives should be reduced to a mere societal cost equation. He also said that, “When America grows up, it will look a lot more like Europe,” and cited a conversation with Dr. Phil Gingrey as an example of the congressman’s over-valuing human life. Read more »

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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