Life Satisfaction and Frequency of Doctor Visits

Whether healthy or ill, people with higher life satisfaction (sometimes called happiness) visit the doctor less than those unhappy.

The Issue:
Health care costs, 16 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, are rising as an aging population makes more doctor visits. Where can costs be reined in—administration, technology, drugs, doctors? An alternative strategy looks at factors related to life satisfaction that might lead to decreased health care use and costs.

Key Findings

  • The average number of doctor visits per year among people who had the highest self-reported life satisfaction was 4.6 compared to 6.4 among those with the lowest life satisfaction.

  • Even after adjusting for chronic diseases and a range of other sociodemographic, psychosocial, and health factors, higher life satisfaction was associated with reduced doctor visits.

  • The authors postulate that people with higher life satisfaction are likely to be more optimistic, socially engaged, and supported—and manage their health problems better.

Pursuing the link between positive psychological factors and health care use may reveal innovative ways to contain health care costs.

About the Study:
Some 6,379 participants in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally represented sample of Americans over age 50, were tracked for four years.


This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.