Life Satisfaction

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Volume 11, Number 8

Dissatisfaction or discomfort is often the impetus for making a change. This can be as simple as adjusting one’s physical position, or as significant as changing jobs. Dissatisfaction regarding one’s health is often a motivator for seeking health care.

On the other hand, this tendency isn’t always predictive. It turns out that people who are more satisfied with their lives tend to have better health, practice healthier behaviors, and are more likely to utilize preventive health care services. This pattern is noteworthy given that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about half of adults in the United States use preventive services according to prevailing recommendations. At least 70% of deaths in the United States are attributed to chronic illnesses, and these chronic illnesses are responsible for at least 75% of health care spending, so healthy behavior and the utilization of preventive services are vital.

Of course, most people would choose to be satisfied with their lives over being dissatisfied, not necessarily for the health benefits but just because it is subjectively better to be satisfied. And, research evidence is clear that life satisfaction can be enhanced. There appears to be much room for improvement in life satisfaction as only a small proportion of adults in the United States are “flourishing” with respect to their happiness or satisfaction.

However, contrary to what many people assume, the circumstances in one’s life (e.g., income, age, job, free time, etc.) have a relatively small impact on overall life satisfaction. Changes in circumstances usually have only a short-term impact on satisfaction, because the new or different becomes the usual in relatively short order. (Of course, major losses/changes require longer periods of adaptation.) Life satisfaction is more a product of perspective and choice rather than of one’s circumstances. Therefore, examples of strategies that more reliably improve satisfaction include practicing gratitude, savoring positive experiences, and nurturing optimistic anticipation of the future.

Will cultivating greater life satisfaction lead to healthy behavior change? Studies are suggesting that the answer is “yes.” In a sample of adults with hypertension, an intervention aimed at increasing positive emotions was more effective than patient education alone in increasing medication adherence. Similar results were obtained for increasing physical activity in a sample of patients who had undergone angioplasty.

Happier and healthier do go hand in hand. Most people have room to increase their life satisfaction. The evidence suggests that not only can this make life subjectively better, it also contributes to being healthier.

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