Daily Functioning, Health Status, and Happiness in Older Adults

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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).

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Correspondence to Erik Angner.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Debility questions from the SF-12

  1. SF-2.

    Think about moderate activities, such as moving a table, pushing a vacuum cleaner, bowling, or playing golf. Does your health now limit you a lot, limit you a little, or not limit you at all?

  2. SF-3.

    Think about climbing several flights of stairs. Does your health now limit you a lot, limit you a little, or not limit you at all?

  3. SF-4.

    During the past 4 weeks, how much of the time have you accomplished less than you would like as a result of your physical health?

  4. SF-5.

    During the past 4 weeks, how much of the time were you limited in the kind of work or regular daily activities you do as a result of your physical health?

Appendix 2: Happiness questions

  1. 1.

    How happy do you consider yourself to be in general? 1 means that you do not consider yourself to be a very happy person and 7 means that you consider yourself to be a happy person.

  2. 2.

    How do you compare your happiness to that of other people? 1 means that you are less happy than most people and 7 means that you are more happy than most people.

  3. 3.

    Some people are generally very happy. They enjoy life regardless of what is going on, getting the most out of everything. How well does this describe you? 1 means that the statement does not describe you at all and 7 means that it describes you a great deal.

  4. 4.

    Some people are generally not very happy. Although they are not depressed, they never seem as happy as they might be. How well does this describe you? 1 means that the statement does not describe you at all and 7 means that it describes you a great deal.

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Angner, E., Ghandhi, J., Williams Purvis, K. et al. Daily Functioning, Health Status, and Happiness in Older Adults. J Happiness Stud 14, 1563–1574 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-012-9395-6

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Keywords

  • Health status
  • Daily functioning
  • Debility
  • Happiness
  • Subjective well-being