A University of Nebraska Medical Center study suggests that improving levels of happiness or satisfaction with life also gives rise to better health in the future.
The study indicates as we become happier and more satisfied with life, we tend to become healthier as well. Mohammad Siahpush, Ph.D., professor of health promotion, who led the study reports that those who expressed feeling happy and satisfied with their lives were more likely to have excellent, good or very good health three years later, as well as an absence of long-term and limiting health concerns and a better overall level of physical health.
This isn’t surprising. Even four years ago our President affirmed what so many of us are already knew – we’re facing rough waters and stormy times for years to come. “That we are in the midst of crisis is well understood,” he said. “Our nation is at war … our economy is weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices …. [T]he challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.” He then called upon us for shared sacrifice.
This has not changed, but does it mean we can expect to be less happy, less satisfied and less healthy in the years ahead? Can sacrifice and satisfaction co-exist in America? That depends on us, doesn’t it?
Certainly if our happiness is tied to comfort, convenience, financial success, and material wealth we can expect some very unhappy and unhealthy folks in the foreseeable future. For nearly a century those are the very things the advertising industry has entrained us to believe are the path to happiness and satisfaction. So in this sense clearly the sacrifices have already begun. A recent article in the New York Times entitled Don’t Indulge. Be Happy cited a study entitled “From wealth to well-being? Money matters, but less than people think” that found that once people have an income of $75,000, income beyond does not lead to an increase in happiness.
We need only scan the news each day to know that’s true. High school sports programs are being cancelled. The number of students accepted for college is down while tuition costs are up and students leave with crippling debt. Foreclosures and bankruptcies are high. Hospitals and retail stores are closing. Millions in retirement funds have been lost. Up to fifteen million jobs have disappeared since 2007. States are running out of funds for unemployment benefits and cutting basic services. People are having to choose between food or fuel or medication. Some are living out of their cars, even in upscale communities like Santa Barbara, CA. Soup kitchens and food pantries are running out of food as the demand is greater from many who were once in the middle class.
Social Security and Medicare are under discussion for cuts to elderly who are already barely covering their costs for food, shelter, and medical care. As Michael Hiltzik wrote the Los Angeles Times, “Income drops sharply with age, presumably because most income sources become exhausted. For two-thirds of all elderly households, Social Security accounts for more than half of all income, and for one-third of those households, it provides 90%.”
For Americans who have been used to decades of prosperity such sacrifices are a bitter pill, especially for those who are already dealing with them. Few of us are feeling happy or satisfied about our current and projected circumstance. But can we feel happy and satisfied in it?
For the most part I’m not seeing a welcoming spirit of sacrifice as of yet. Though there are occasional news reports of workers willing to take pay cuts to prevent co-workers from being laid off, many Americans aren’t ready to accept the sacrifices they’re already coping with, let alone those ahead to which Obama alludes. Instead I see a lot of indignation and misfortune.
- Parents furious about 50-student classrooms and cuts in school sports programs.
- Students committing suicide over student loan debt.
- People being jailed for debt.
- Neighbors outraged that people are camping out in cars and RV’s on their neighborhood streets.
- Protests about cuts in public services as well as cuts they think should be made.
- Workers demanding plants be kept open and benefits kept in place.
- ER doctors suing the government for decent reimbursement fees.
- Teachers demonstrating for teacher’s pay over testing materials.
- Parents unbelieving that they must drive a long distance get their sick child to the hospital.
I believe we’re seeing this general resistance to accept sacrifice when it touches our personal lives for two reasons:
1) a pervasive sense of entitlement on the one hand and
2) a profound sense of injustice on the other.
We’ve grown to expect an unending stream of the latest, best, fastest, most convenient, easy-to-use products and services of a quantity and quality beyond anything our ancestors could have imagined. But, as the reality of our economic and environmental challenges surge onward unabated, our sense of entitlement will inevitably erode. The question is, into what?
As far as a sense of injustice goes, that will be yet harder to accept. As I overheard one retiree comment, “Sacrifice? I’ve already sacrificed. I worked hard for 48 years and I paid out dearly needed income into Social Security and a 401k every one of those years so that I’d have some security. Now that I’m too old and sick from all the stress of working, 40% of my savings have disappeared at the hands of billionaires in failed financial institutions who are getting billions in bonuses that we’re going to have to sacrifice in order to pay for! And now they have the nerve to talk about cutting back our piddly Social Security and Medicare payments !! Give me a break!”
There is no doubt the greed Obama also alluded to has resulted in grave injustice to many middle-class and low income citizens. So, just how readily we will embrace the need to sacrifice and how satisfied we will be with our circumstance may well depend on how fairly distributed the sacrifices are and how evenly the suffering is spread.
But as psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, meaning, and I would say satisfaction and happiness, are not something bestowed upon us. They are something we must find within whatever our circumstances might be.
Do we want to view the years ahead as unsatisfying times of suffering and sacrifice that risk our health and well-being? Or do we want to find meaning in the difficulties we face and draw satisfaction from our efforts to respond to them? It’s up to us.