We depend on our hearing for a lot. We use it to communicate with other people, enjoy music and other art forms and to receive warnings, such as the honking of a car horn. Hearing can also impact our happiness, but we don’t usually make that connection unless we lose our hearing.
When we do lose our hearing, the link between happiness and hearing is often painfully obvious. According to a study conducted over five years between 2005 and 2010, hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression, especially for those between the ages of 18 and 69.
Another study, which surveyed 35- to 55-year-olds in Italy, found that those with mild to moderate hearing loss were more likely to experience depression, anxiety and interpersonal sensitivity.
So what is the link between happiness and hearing? It turns out they’re connected in quite a few ways.
Hearing Opens New Doors
For someone who’s never been able to hear as well as most people can, getting their hearing loss treated with hearing aids or other interventions can feel like a whole new world is opening up.
They might not have been able to pick up on subtle conversational cues or not have realized that music has words. This dramatic change is exciting and can lead to an appreciation for sounds that most of us never have.
When this goes the other way, the results can be painful. Take, for instance, the story of this musician who lost his hearing, his career and, with it, much of the joy in his life. He eventually found joy in other things before getting his hearing loss treated and returning to music, but the discovered the dramatic emotional impact a change in hearing can have on someone’s life.
Of course, you don’t need to be able to hear to be happy, but for those who are used to hearing, losing it can be a huge blow. For those who have never had full use of their hearing, getting the ability can be a life-changing, exciting discovery.
Effect on Social Life
Hearing impacts many different aspects of someone’s life, but perhaps the most pronounced is its effect on social interactions. Hearing loss can make social situations harder for people to navigate, which causes people to avoid them. This leads to an increased risk of depression and lower quality of life.
A study by the National Council on Aging found that older adults with untreated hearing loss were far less likely to engage in social activities. The study also found that reversing hearing loss can also reverse these emotional and social impacts. According to the study, those who did wear hearing aids reported an improved social life as well as improvements in other aspects of their lives.
Even minor hearing loss could hamper our efforts at social interaction. Human conversation contains many subtle changes in inflection
that communicate emotion. For example, it’s possible to detect a smile — even different kinds of smiles — if you can’t see the speaker. You can tell just by changes in their voice.
When we miss out on subtle clue like this, we miss part of the meaning in a conversation.
Emotions Work Both Ways
These subtle cues may be more powerful than they seem. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they can affect our communication as well as our emotions.
The researchers asked participants to read a short story out loud and listen to themselves through headphones as they read it. Unbeknownst to the participants, the researchers digitally altered the speaker’s voices to make them sounds happier, sadder or more anxious through subtle modifications like changes in inflection.
They found that those who heard a happier-sounding version of themselves reported feeling happier, those who heard a sadder voice reported feeling sadder and those who heard themselves speaking more anxiously felt more anxious.
This means just hearing an emotion in your voice can make you feel that emotion. This suggests that not only do we smile because we’re happy, but we’re also happy because we smile.
This study doesn’t address whether the same principle applies when hearing someone else’s voice or if you’re purposely trying to sound happier. It does, however, demonstrate just how much subtle changes in what we hear can impact us.
Treating Hearing Loss Helps
Of everyone in the U.S. who would benefit from hearing devices, only 20% seek treatment. Those who do go wait an average of ten years before getting treated.
This may be because it can be hard to realize that you’re losing your hearing when it first starts to happen. Others me feel embarrassed or think that getting a hearing device won’t help them.
Studies have shown, however, that treatment certainly does help. Hearing aids can improve hearing, and as the National Council on Aging study mentioned earlier found, it can also lead to better relationships and an increased sense of independence.
Getting hearing devices doesn’t just improve the quality of life for older adults with hearing loss. It can help younger people who are experiencing the problem as well. Taryn Allander shared her story with wearing hearing aids on the website for Beltone, a Hearing Aid Center located in Pennsylvania.
She first started wearing hearing aids at the age of four. She didn’t want the devices at first, but after she got them, she realized what she had been missing out on. While she encountered plenty of challenges in school and elsewhere in life, she has been quite successful. She graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and now works for Beltone as the digital marketing manager.
Happiness Beyond Hearing
If you think you have hearing loss, especially if it’s affecting your quality of life, you should seek treatment. Using a hearing device could improve your hearing as well as many other aspects of your life.
You don’t need perfect hearing to be happy though. It has more to do with how you respond to issues related to hearing. While hearing is important and resulting emotional health issues are serious, as Stu Nunnery, a musician with hearing loss says, “Joy is a choice.”
From what we now know about the connection between hearing and happiness, we can learn some important lessons about the impacts of hearing loss, the importance of treatment, finding joy in life and appreciating hearing for everything that it enables us to do.