The pursuit of happiness

Categories: Care.

The pursuit of happiness is enshrined into the US Constitution, the subject of countless books and is now even being measured by governments. Policy makers and development agents are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy at all costs. In light of this, the UN today marks its first ever ‘International Day of Happiness’.  

All 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority and March 20 has been declared as a day to inspire action for a happier world.

The importance of happiness is starting to be understood in palliative care.

We know that improving the quality of life and the happiness of a patient is directly linked to the quality of palliative care provision they receive. For example, findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggest that patients with terminal lung cancer “that began receiving palliative care immediately upon diagnosis not only were happier, more mobile and in less pain as the end neared – but they also lived nearly three months longer.”

It works both ways, however. We also know that ensuring patients are happy can also reduce pain, suffering and even mortality rates. James Fowler, from the University of California has found that “happiness…[can] have an important effect on reduced mortality, pain reduction, and improved cardiac function.”

Regardless of whether happiness leads to a better quality of life or better quality of life makes people happy, we can say for certain that it is important for patients receiving palliative care to be on the upward spiral of happiness.

On the flip side of happiness, we also know that unhappiness can have a detrimental impact on patient’s lives. We know that depression can have both direct and indirect impacts on a patient’s quality of life. For example, we know that it can exasperate a reduction in social functioning further than the physical condition itself dictates.

Once again, it is clear that best practice in palliative care provision can have dramatic impacts on not only a patient’s life, but also on their families lives as well. 

It is in light of all this that we should welcome the International Day of Happiness. It is not just a state of mind but a key indicator in holistic palliative care provision.