RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A few weeks ago I wrote about how money can’t buy happiness, but being grateful for what you have can make you happier. In a similar vein, how wealthy you are may be less important for your health than how wealthy you perceive yourself to be.
During this turbulent time, when people’s financial fortunes are changing dramatically, it is more important than ever to be aware of your own perceptions of your financial situation and of yourself. Many of us have suffered the effects of economic forces outside our control. But while you may not have been able to control whether you were laid off from your job or lost money in your retirement account, you definitely can control how you look at your financial position and yourself. And doing so may not only put your mind at ease, it might keep you from getting sick.
THE DETAILS: Many studies have found that people with higher incomes and higher-status jobs tend to stay healthier than people at lower income and occupational levels. The most obvious interpretation is that people with more money can afford better food, living conditions, and medical care that support their health. And there’s undoubtedly some truth to that. However, a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology by Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and his associates at Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that a subtler psychological factor may be influencing the disparity in health outcomes between those at the top and the bottom of the economic ladder.
In the study, 193 healthy men and women were exposed by nasal drops to a cold or flu virus, and monitored in quarantine for objective signs of illness and self-reported symptoms. The researchers paid the subjects $800 each to answer a battery of questionnaires and psychological assessments, undergo medical tests, and spend two weeks attempting to fight off the viral challenge. One assessment required the subjects to rate on a nine-point scale how well they were doing educationally and financially compared to others in the United States. Controlling for personality variables and lifestyle habits, the researchers found that people who rated themselves lower were significantly more likely to come down with a cold (43 percent) than those who rated themselves higher (20 percent). Interestingly, when confounding variables were controlled for, the subjects’ actual income and educational level did not predict whether or not they caught a cold.