Currently showing: Funding longer lives > Health/medicine

07 Oct 13 11:13

According to a new study published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, 38.2% of Europeans or 165 million people suffered from a mental disorder in 2010. You can read a summary of the report on the Economist - - or an abstract here:;=inward&txGid;=C04D0B1E589F52C7DC92210B57C2E381.FZg2ODcJC9ArCe8WOZPvA%3a2

Such studies generally deserve to be taken with a grain of salt as the criteria for mental disorders are incredibly subjective and the extremity of the numbers tend to bear out the view that the researchers are using an overly inclusive and expansive definition of mental disorder. There are also many reasons why psychologists and the related industry of healing invisible ills would want to exaggerate the extent of the conditions that they claim to treat.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that far too many people suffer from severe depression (though possibly not 6.9% of the population), alcohol abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.

It is also clear that while breakthroughs in medical technology are allowing us to live longer, healthier lives, they're not doing such a good job of allowing us to live happier, more fulfilling lives. In fact, the hippies over at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) claim that most of us are pretty unhappy with our lot: (.odf download)

That bears out a Pew survey which found that more than half of all Americans did not relish the prospect of living longer:

The NEF study also found that there was no particular correlation between economic well-being and personal well-being. Many of the happiest countries are in the developing world, where people are financially impoverished but enjoy rich family and personal lives.

A study by Steven Cole, a professor of medicine at UCLA, and his colleagues, also found that different types of happiness can affect physical well being differently. Cole and friends differentiate between hedonic happiness, which comes from indulging in pleasures and vices, and eudaimonic well being, the happiness that comes from interaction with others, philanthropy and doing good deeds. According to their research, eudaimonic happiness was accompanied by improved immunity and positive developments in gene expression, while a separate study revealed that unhappiness can result in long-term damage to health. That means that people suffering from mental disorders today could find themselves carrying an additional burden of ill-health in later years and can thus look forward to an extended period of ill-health in old age accompanied by depression and loneliness. Oh joy.

It seems obvious, then, that if medical science is going to keep us alive for longer, we need to find new ways to be happy and a new understanding of happiness. That is massively challenging in an increasingly complex world with a 24-hour news cycle apparently dedicated to spreading fear and misery, but the alternative is that we popularize the suicide booths from Futurama:

As Hunter S. Thompson put it: "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

Category: Funding longer lives: Health/medicine, Long-term care, Social contract


Alicia Montoya - 29 Oct 2013, 6:39 a.m.

I wonder if this unhappiness syndrome is more a product of the rich West. When I look around, I see people focused on whether they weigh a kilo too many, a kilo too few... whether they're earning enough / too little... whether their apartment should have three rooms instead of two... car's too old... etc etc etc. For better or for worse, developing nations don't have those "problems".

The research on gene development is fascinating. So your body can tell real from fake happiness? Brilliant. I love it when our bodies & brains outsmart our egos.

As for that elusive happiness, I think the rich West needs a paradigm shift: to move from growth to prosperity, from individualism back to communities, from supersize me to less is more and from "us and them" to we are one.

My question is, how do we change the incentive structures currently in place in the West, leading individuals, companies and governments to a short-term, unsustainable modus operandi?

Gilles Renouil - 11 Jan 2014, 7:25 a.m.

I find research about happiness fascinating for two reasons:

The first is that both the physiological mechanisms and the socio-economic factors about happiness are completely counterintuitive and I like to be surprised and challenged in my own perception. On this, I recommend the excellent TED-talk by Dan Gilbert: The socio-economic factors of happiness were discussed by Alois Stutzer from Basel University ( at last year's Lassalle-Haus Ethik Forum ( and his conclusions are mindboggling. I would share this picture he showed during his presentation:

The second - and much more important, is that somehow we are all on the quest happiness, everyone in their very own manner. Some strive for wealth, some for power, some for love, some for celebrity but in the great scheme of things we are just looking for recognition and the deep feeling of happiness.On this I recommend the excellent TED-talk by David Steindl-Rast based on his book published in 1984 about gratefulness:

Enjoy and be happy!

Cheers. Gilles

If you would like to leave a comment, please, log in.