Well-Being Affect Health?

How Does Subjective Well-Being Affect Health?

Two studies support recent blogs about the effects of depression and/or anxiety on physical health, but do so from the perspective of “subjective well-being” instead.  Rather than reducing the negative impact of depression or anxiety, this focus is on “a person’s positive evaluation of their psychological functioning and experience” (reprints at:  ladwig@helmholtz-muenchen.de).

Three kinds of well-being are at work:

  • “evaluative well-being:  life satisfaction”
  • “hedonic well-being:  feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, stress, pain”
  • “eudaimonic well-being:  sense of purpose and meaning in life”

Thus, well-being has both emotional and intellectual, or cognitive components.  Large population studies demonstrate a U-shaped curve in relationship to age.  Well-being is at a low point around midlife, while it is higher at younger ages and older ages.  Emotional distress, on the other hand, has a hill-shaped curve in relationship to age, implying that the period of maximum distress is close to the age of minimum well-being, around mid-life.

Higher levels of subjective well-being is associated with a lower risk of mortality overall.  For older adults, “social relationships, socioeconomic status, social capital, and psychosocial resources” improve well-being.  Fascinatingly, poor mental health, more than poor physical health, contributes to lower levels of well-being.  “In both sexes, anxiety and depression were the strongest risk factors for low subjective well-being in both sexes, thereby emphasizing the importance of mental health on overall well-being…further research is needed to understand the somewhat paradoxical pattern of discrepant subjective well-being versus objective health in age.”  Older people, who may be in poorer physical health, may still experience well-being if their mental health is more intact.

The second study, which is a review of many studies, points out that subjective well-being contributes to both health and longevity (reprints at:  ediener@illinois.edu).  More specific benefits involve “health behaviors” (such as exercise, good nutrition, not smoking, or preventive health measures, for example), as well as “immune and cardiovascular systems.”  More research is needed to when and how subjective well-being can improve overall health, and how efforts to increase well-being will provide health benefits.

As with the previous blogs, it seems clear that therapeutic efforts to not only reduce depression, mood disorders, or anxiety will improve health for individuals, but that therapeutic support for subjective well-being will also improve health.  Skilled, individualized psychotherapy can certainly help with all three kinds of subjective well-being identified above.

Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA.  A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772 or dralanms@gmail.com

 

Copyright 2017 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.