Do ex-smokers feel happier?

Do ex-smokers feel happier? Although the first month after stopping smoking is
characterized by a period of feeling grumpy, anxious and miserable, there is evidence that in the longer run, ex-smokers report feeling less stressed than they did while smoking.

This month, two researchers in the UK (Drs Lion Shahab and Robert West) reported on a study that examined whether ex-smokers report feeling more or less happy than they did while smoking. They analyzed data from a survey of 879 ex smokers, who were asked which statements best applied to them: "I feel happier now than when I was smoking"...."I feel about the same now as when I was smoking" or, "I feel less happy now then when I was smoking." The study found that 69% of ex-smokers reported being happier now than when they were smoking, and only 3 % reported feeling less happy than when they were smoking.

Ex-smokers who quit over a year ago were even more likely to rate themselves as "happier now' than ex-smokers who quit within the past 12 months. It therefore seems unlikely that the result was caused simply by people feeling pleased with themselves for succeeding in a difficult task (quitting smoking).

Many smokers continue smoking in the belief that smoking helps their mood and that if they stop smoking they will become more stressed. The results from this and other studies shows that in fact after passing the first month or so without a cigarette, ex-smokers generally become less stressed and more happy than they were while smoking.

Perhaps the main implication here is that it provides the basis for giving smokers a positive message. Although the first month after quitting smoking can be tough,in the long run smokers are likely to be happier after stopping smoking than they were while smoking.

Further information on the psychological effects of smoking and nicotine can be found in chapter 3 of the 2000 Royal College of Physicians Report: Nicotine Addiction in Britain

Shahab L, West R. Do ex-smokers report feeling happier following cessation?
Evidence from a cross-sectional survey. Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 May;11(5):553-7
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.