General News Research — 03 July 2013

Turns out good health does not figure high on the list of things you need to be happy – at least that’s what one of the country’s top happiness experts says.

Rather, Deakin University psychology professor Robert Cummins, who will soon publish the results of his 29th happiness survey, said humans adapt to adverse health events better than they expect.

And certainly if they have the three key happiness factors: a good relationship, an income of $100,000 and activity that involves purpose and social interaction.

“For the most part, people adapt to disability, unless it’s catastrophically induced,” Professor Cummins told MO.

“If somebody discovers they’re a paraplegic or something, that has a big impact. But if they gradually become less able to move around, then people can adapt to the most extraordinary circumstances.”

Professor Cummins said the aspect of poor health that had the strongest impact on happiness was pain, but “if that’s under control, then people can be severely disabled and still have their normal levels of mood happiness”.

He said the first two happiness factors – an intimate relationship and a good income – were generally well understood, but many people misunderstood the importance of having a hobby with a point that involves social interaction.

What the activity was did not matter, he said, but “the most benefit comes from engagement in situations that are social”. Outside of the workplace, activities with purpose and a strong social element could include volunteer work.

“This is one of the dangers for people when they become retired. They think they can just do a hobby that they think they really enjoy. It actually doesn’t fulfil the gap unless there is social interaction and a sense of purpose to it,” he said.

“Going fishing doesn’t do it, unless you’re going with mates.”

As first appeared in Medical Observer, 2 July 2013

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