Did you see these headlines last week? The New York Times said, “Happiness Doesn’t Bring Good Health, Study Finds” and similarly, the Atlantic stated, “Happiness Doesn’t Help You Live Longer.” These headlines came from a study published in the Lancet last week on happiness and mortality. It was a large prospective study, which lends validity to it’s findings, and showed no association between happiness and mortality. Say what? Happiness improving health outcomes is a fundamental part of my philosophy of care for both myself and my patients. How can this be?
I am a doctor. I believe in science. Our medical system uses scientific data as much as possible to guide our medical decision making and how we counsel patients. So, it’s troubling when well done scientific studies do not confirm what we want or believe to be true.
After seeing the headlines and listening to the coverage from NPR, I was concerned that I might have to change, or at least amend, how I approach my own health as well as that of my patients. My first inclination was to think, it’s wrong, I know happiness affects health.
Understanding the nuances of scientific data can be difficult for many people, myself included; and it’s easy to disregard data, as being flawed, when it does not confirm your current beliefs, as with the anti-vaccine controversy, for example.