During morning rounds at the hospital I examine Mr. Jones. He had a lung transplant a year ago, and has made more visits to the hospitals than to the supermarket.
I ask myself, “Is Mr. Jones happy?”
I pass the automatic double door out of the ICU onto the hospital floor that has many acute and chronically ill patients. Mrs. Clark, 45, developed kidney failure due to her diabetes and high blood pressure. For the past three years she has spend three hours a day – three days a week at a dialysis center. A machine functions as her kidney to filter toxins from her blood.
I ask myself, “Is Mrs. Clark happy?
A recent study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology answered my question. The authors studied patients with chronic illnesses much like Mrs. Clark with an electronic device which prompted them to record their mood several times a day. A group of healthy volunteers were control subjects and also used the device.
The level of happiness reported by both the groups, the chronically ill and the healthy, was the same. Surprisingly, the chronically ill patients all of whom were patients with kidney failure did not “complain” of being unhappy more than healthy people.
The second finding was equally surprising. When each group was asked about the other group; the healthy group predicted that the chronically ill group would be less happy and the chronically ill group predicted that the healthy group would be more happy. Both were equally happy (or unhappy depending on your perspective).
So being chronically unhealthy does not mean that one is necessarily unhappy. Our mind adapts to the new conditions and recalibrates to the body’s situation, and we are equally happy with or without the disease.
Unfortunately, being healthy does not translate to being happy either. As much as the mind and the body are connected, they are still two distinct entities, with the seat of happiness residing well within the mind.