Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 1563–1574 | Cite as

Daily Functioning, Health Status, and Happiness in Older Adults

  • Erik AngnerEmail author
  • Jennifer Ghandhi
  • Kristen Williams Purvis
  • Daniel Amante
  • Jeroan Allison
Research Paper


The hypothesis that the degree to which disease disrupts daily functioning is inversely associated with happiness is widely accepted, yet existing literature offers little direct evidence in its support. This paper explores the hypothesized association in a community-based sample of 383 older adults. To assess the degree to which disease disrupts daily functioning we developed a measure—called the freedom-from-debility score—based on four Short Form-12 (SF-12) Health Survey questions explicitly designed to represent “limitations in physical activities because of health problems” and “limitations in usual role activities because of physical health problems.” The results were consistent with the hypothesis. When participants were divided into categories based on their freedom-from-debility score, median happiness scores were monotonically increasing across categories. Controlling for demographic and socio-economic factors as well as health status (measured both subjectively and objectively), a one-point increase in freedom-from-debility score (on a scale from 0 to 100) was associated with a three-percent reduction in the odds of lower-quartile happiness. The results support the contention that health status is one of the most influential predictors of happiness, that the association between health status and happiness depends greatly on the manner in which health status is measured, and that the degree to which disease disrupts daily functioning is inversely associated with happiness.


Health status Daily functioning Debility Happiness Subjective well-being 



This project was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics cooperative agreement (U18-HS010389).


  1. Angner, E., Ray, M., Saag, K., & Allison, J. (2009). Health and happiness among older adults: A community-based study. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(4), 503–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Antonak, R. F., & Livneh, H. (1995). Psychosocial adaptation to disability and its investigation among persons with multiple sclerosis. Social Science and Medicine, 40(8), 1099–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.Google Scholar
  4. Carel, H. (2009). “I am well, apart from the fact that I have cancer”: Explaining well-being within illness. In L. Bortolotti (Ed.), Philosophy and happiness (pp. 82–99). New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  5. Çeliker, R., & Borman, P. (2001). Fibromyalgia versus rheumatoid arthritis: A comparison of psychological disturbance and life satisfaction. Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, 9(1), 35–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chuang, H. T., Devins, G. M., Hunsley, J., & Gill, M. J. (1989). Psychosocial distress and well-being among gay and bisexual men with human immunodeficiency virus infection. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146(7), 876–880.Google Scholar
  7. Chwalisz, K., Diener, E., & Gallagher, D. (1988). Autonomic arousal feedback and emotional experience: Evidence from the spinal cord injured. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 820–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarke, P. J., Ailshire, J. A., Nieuwenhuijsen, E. R., & de Kleign-de Vrankrijker, M. W. (2011). Participation among adults with disability: The role of the urban environment. Social Science and Medicine, 72(10), 1674–1684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. deHaes, J. C. J. M., & van Knippenberg, F. C. E. (1985). The quality of life of cancer patients: A review of the literature. Social Science and Medicine, 20(8), 809–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eckersley, R., Dixon, J. M., Douglas, B., & Douglas, R. M. (2001). The social origins of health and well-being. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fava, G. A., & Sonino, N. (2008). The biopsychosocial model thirty years later. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 77(1), 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frederick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 302–329). New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  14. Friedsam, H. J., & Martin, H. W. (1963). A comparison of self and physicians’ health ratings in an older population. Journal of Health and Human Behavior, 4(3), 179–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goldberg, R. T. (1974). Adjustment of children with invisible and visible handicaps: Congenital heart disease and facial burns. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 21(5), 428–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Green, G. A. (2001). Understanding NSAIDs: From aspirin to COX-2. Clinical Cornerstone, 3(5), 50–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hébert, Réjean. (1997). Functional decline in old age. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 157(8), 1037–1045.Google Scholar
  18. Hilbe, J. M. (2009). Logistic regression models. Boca Raton: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, J. P., McCauley, C. R., & Copley, J. B. (1982). The quality of life of hemodialysis and transplant patients. Kidney International, 22(3), 286–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klonoff, P. S., Costa, L. D., & Snow, W. G. (1986). Predictors and indicators of quality of life in patients with closed-head injury. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 8(5), 469–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Larson, R. (1978). Thirty years of research on the subjective well-being of older Americans. Journal of Gerontology, 33(1), 109–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lebo, D. (1953). Some factors said to make for happiness in old age. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 9(4), 385–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Livneh, H., & Antonak, R. F. (1994). Review of research on psychosocial adaptation to neuromuscular disorders: I. Cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 9(5), 201–230.Google Scholar
  24. Lucas, R. E. (2007). Adaptation and the set-point model of subjective well-being: Does happiness change after major life events? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 75–79.Google Scholar
  25. Lungenhausen, M., Lang, S., Maier, C., Schaub, C., Trampisch, H. J., & Endres, H. G. (2007). Randomised controlled comparison of the Health Survey Short Form (SF-12) and the Graded Chronic Pain Scale (GCPS) in telephone interviews versus self-administered questionnaires. Are the results equivalent? BMC Medical Research Methodology, 7(50), 1–8.Google Scholar
  26. Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others? The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56(3), 239–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lyubomirsky, S., & Lepper, H. S. (1999). A measure of subjective happiness: Preliminary reliability and construct validation. Social Indicators Research, 46(2), 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & DiMatteo, M. R. (2006). What are the differences between happiness and self-esteem? Social Indicators Research, 78(3), 363–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Magilvy, J. K. (1985). Quality of life of hearing-impaired older women. Nursing Research, 34(3), 140–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Michalos, A. C., Zumbo, B. D., & Hubley, A. (2000). Health and the quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 51(3), 245–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Okun, M. A., & George, L. K. (1984). Physician-and self-ratings of health, neuroticism, and subjective well-being among men and women. Personality and Individual Differences, 5(5), 533–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Okun, M. A., Stock, W. A., Haring, M. J., & Witter, R. A. (1984). Health and subjective well-being. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 19(2), 111–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smith, C. A., & Wallston, K. A. (1992). Adaptation in patients with chronic rheumatoid arthritis: Application of a general model. Health Psychology, 11(3), 151–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tyc, V. L. (1992). Psychosocial adaptation of children and adolescents with limb deficiencies: A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 12(3), 275–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ware, J. E., & Sherbourne, C. D. (1992). The MOS 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36). Medical Care, 30(6), 473–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wood, R. L., & Rutterford, N. A. (2006). Demographic and cognitive predictors of long-term psychosocial outcome following traumatic brain injury. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 12(3), 350–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zautra, A., & Hempel, A. (1984). Subjective well-being and physical health. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 19(2), 95–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik Angner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jennifer Ghandhi
    • 2
  • Kristen Williams Purvis
    • 3
  • Daniel Amante
    • 4
  • Jeroan Allison
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  4. 4.University of Massachusetts Medical SchoolWorcesterUSA

Personalised recommendations