In a classical study, Philip Brickman and colleagues investigated the level of happiness of 22 major lottery winners, 29 paralyzed accident victims and 22 controls. [Journal of Personalaity and Social Psychology 1978;36:917-27] As expected, the winners rated winning the lottery as a highly positive event and the victims rated the accident as a highly negative event. Surprisingly, the effect was brief. Winners were not happier than controls and took less pleasure from daily life events. Victims were not significantly more melancholy either.
If one cannot have long-lasting happiness even after these extreme events, how can we expect otherwise with less dramatic stimuli? When I was a house officer, daily work became easier with the introduction of the computer investigation request system. We no longer needed to waste time filling in complicated blood taking forms. Now, our house officers do not even need to perform blood taking – that would be the job of phlebotomists. However, if you ask house officers in different eras, I doubt if anyone would report their work as less stressful and cumbersome than that of their predecessors.
According to the adaptation level theory, people can only derive short-term pleasure from favorable events. After a while, they would take that level of life for granted.
With this background, shall we still ponder so much about getting a transplant or not? True, living with uremia or ascites is frustrating. Brickman’s study, however, clearly indicates that true happiness can only occur if you can do what you love to do with the blessing of a transplant. Nevertheless, should life only start after transplantation?