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Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2008 Nov 2;6:89. doi: 10.1186/1477-7525-6-89.

Reflections on changeability versus stability of health-related quality of life: distinguishing between its environmental and genetic components.

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Department of Medical Psychology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The field of health-related quality of life (HRQOL) could benefit from a broadening of perspectives to include recent advancements in research on adaptation, positive psychology, and genetics. These advances shed new light on the extent to which HRQOL is changeable or fixed. The objective of this paper is to integrate these insights and to discuss their implications for HRQOL research. We describe the Hedonic Treadmill theory, which asserts that positive events only temporarily affect happiness since people quickly return to hedonic neutrality. New empirical evidence suggests important revisions of this theory, providing a more optimistic picture of the possibility for change. Advances in positive psychology show that relatively simple interventions have the power to induce a sustainable increase in levels of happiness. Finally, a small but growing number of studies have found independent genetic influences in well-being, life satisfaction, perceived health, and even HRQOL. Given the increasing empirical evidence that HRQOL can be sustainably enhanced and is in part genetically determined, it may be useful to consider HRQOL as a concept that has state (environmental) and trait (genetic) components. This distinction will allow us to explore new pathways of improving theory, methods, and clinical practice. The overarching novel questions concern the extent to which HRQOL components are environmentally or genetically determined, and which factors lead to lasting improvement. This distinction begs for new research approaches, such as time-sampling techniques and interdisciplinary research investigating the genetic variants of HRQOL. Distinguishing between those aspects that are amenable to change from those that are relatively fixed and stable will help better target specific support interventions.

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