Giving up hope can make some ill people happier: study

Tue Nov 3, 2009 7:43pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Giving up hope can actually make some people living with a serious illness happier, according to U.S. researchers who have found a "dark side of hope."

A study by the University of Michigan Health Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine involved a group of adults who had their colons removed.

In total 41 people were told their colostomy was reversible and they could undergo a second operation to reconnect their bowels after several months and get rid of their colostomy bag.

Another 30 individuals were told that the colostomy was permanent.

The study, published in the latest issue of Health Psychology, found the second group, the one without hope, reported being happier over the next six months than those with reversible colostomies.

"We think they were happier because they got on with their lives. They realized the cards they were dealt, and recognized that they had no choice but to play with those cards," researcher Peter Ubel said in a university-issued statement.

"We're not saying hope is a bad thing. What we're pointing out is that there can be a dark side of hope. It can cause people to put their lives on hold," Ubel added in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

Ubel said doctors often don't want to tell patients that hope is futile as hope plays a role in happiness and "happy people live longer and healthier than unhappy people."

But while hopeful news may be easiest to deliver, "it may not be in the best interest of the recipients because it may interfere with emotional adaptation," the study team concluded.

(Reporting by Rachael Myers Lowe of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)