Wellbeing, health and ageing

Guardado en: Aging and health • Publicado el 05/05/2015 • Comentarios: 0

People’s self-reports of their subjective wellbeing are becoming a focus of intense debate in public policy and economics, and improvement of the wellbeing of the population is emerging as a key societal aspiration. Present measures of economic performance such as gross domestic product are insufficient as indicators of the progress of society, and self-reported wellbeing should also be taken into account.

Subjective wellbeing and health are closely related and the link could become increasingly important at older ages.

Three aspects of subjective wellbeing can be distinguished:

  1. Evaluative wellbeing (life satisfaction)
  2. Hedonic wellbeing (feelings of happiness)
  3. Eudaimonic wellbeing (sense of purpose and meaning in life).

Wellbeing might also have a protective role in health maintenance while eudaimonic wellbeing is associated with increased survival.

The frequent finding that average self-reported life evaluation in the population increases with age suggests that subjective wellbeing is affeced by many factors other than health. These factors include material conditions, social and family relationships and social roles and activities. Research suggests that subjective wellbeing might even be a protective factor for health, reducing the risk of chronic physical illness and promoting longevity.

One especially intensive study supports improvement in hedonic wellbeing with advancing age dispeling the idea that the intensity of experiences diminishes with age. The theory emerging from these results is that as people age they accumulate emotional wisdom that leads to selection of more emotionally satisfying events, friendships and experiences. Thus, despite factors such as loss of status associated with retirement and reduced income, older people maintain and even increase self-reported wellbeing by focussing on a more restricted set of social contacts and experiences.

These findings suggest that older populations although less productive, perhaps also with reduced material needs, might be more satisfied with their lives and experience less stress, worry and anger than do middle-aged people.

The notion that impaired subjective wellbeing is associated with increased risk of physical illness is not new. What is new is the possibility that positive subjective wellbeing is a protective factor for health. Epidemiological studies suggest that positive life evaluations and hedonic states such as happiness predict lower future mortality and morbidity.

Research into subjective wellbeing and health at older ages is at an early stage. Nevertheless, the wellbeing of elderly people is important, and evidence suggests that positive hedonic states, life evaluation and eudaimonic wellbeing are relevant to health and quality of life as people age, Health-care systems should be concerned not only with illness and disability, but also with supporting methods to improve positive psycological states.

Extracted from report published in The Lancet by Doctors Andrew Steptoe, Angus  Deaton and Arthur A. Stone,

by F. Javier Gonzalez

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