Happiness and neurological diseases

Yoram Barak*, Anat Achiron

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Happiness is an emotional state reflecting positive feelings and satisfaction with life, which, as an outcome in disease states or as an end point in clinical trials, is a neglected concept in most therapeutic areas. In neurological disease, happiness is important as it can be diminished either as a direct result of damage to neuronal tissue or as a reaction to a poor prognosis. The monitoring and maintenance of happiness and wellbeing have historically been considered to be peripheral to medicine. However, as happiness interacts with the patient's physical health, it is an important parameter to assess alongside all aspects of any given disease. Happiness provides a reliable overview of the patient's general status over and above standard parameters for quality of life, and is more wide-ranging than the narrow measures of disease activity or treatment efficacy that are the focus of most clinical trials. In many studies, happiness has been associated with health and success in most areas of life, including performance at work, sporting achievement and social functioning. For approximately a decade, previously studied aspects of psychology have been grouped under the label of positive psychology (PoP). Principles of this discipline are now being used to guide some treatments in neurological and psychiatric diseases. PoP aims to define patient wellbeing in scientific terms and to increase understanding of happiness, meaning in life, resilience and character strengths, as well as to determine how this knowledge can be applied clinically to promote health. Some evidence has emerged recently suggesting that improvements in patient status can result from interventions to improve the patient's level of happiness in diseases, including epilepsy, Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and stroke. Several effective approaches to increase happiness employ activities to engage and stimulate patients who might otherwise be unoccupied and isolated. In addition, specific interventions to increase happiness developed by PoP clinicians have demonstrated efficacy and validity. Several measurement scales now exist that reliably measure happiness as a long-term state, rather than as a fluctuating condition resulting from prevailing mood. These enable the use of happiness as an end point in clinical trials. As happiness becomes increasingly accepted as an important consideration in neurological disease, it is likely to be monitored more extensively, with measures to raise happiness levels being taken as an effective means of improving patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-459
Number of pages15
JournalExpert Review of Neurotherapeutics
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2009

Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Outcome
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Positive affect
  • Positive psychology
  • Positive psychotherapy
  • Wellbeing

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