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Chronically ill people 'happier if they abandon hope', say docs

Promises to 'reconnect bowels' make people sad

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Health researchers in America have suggested that it is better for people suffering from severe illness to give up any hope that their condition might improve.

“Hope is an important part of happiness,” said Dr Peter A Ubel, one of the authors of the "happily hopeless" study, “but there’s a dark side of hope".

Essentially, according to Ubel and his colleagues, it's often better to just resign yourself to how awful things are rather than raging against your situation and hoping desperately that it will get better.

The doctors based this on surveys of patients who had their colons removed. Some were told that was it, they were on colostomy bags for life; others were informed that doctors would "reconnect their bowels" at some future date. Apparently the first group reported higher levels of happiness over the next six months.

“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,” says Ubel, who was teamed up with social scientist George Loewenstein on the study.

The better-living-through-bad-news profs say that the same psychology is seen in other situations. It's better, they argue, to have your spouse die than to have them divorce you.

“If your husband or wife dies, you have closure. There aren’t any lingering possibilities," says Loewenstein.

The very worst thing a doctor can do, according to the profs, is to sugar-coat any medical bad news, or to rashly lay any stress on chances of survival or recovery.

“Hopeful messages may not be in the best interests of the patient and may interfere with the patient’s emotional adaptation,” says Ubel. “I don’t think we should take hope away. But I think we have to be careful about building up people’s hope so much that they put off living their lives."

There's more from Michigan Uni here. ®

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