Sometimes, Being Alive Is Just a Pain

Ask any hypochondriac: Good health doesn't feel that good sometimes. You feel sick when you're not; you feel the pain of being alive, as the late scholar Joseph Campbell would have it.

In fact, analyzing Gallup survey results and other health data, researchers at the Robert Graham Center in Washington, D.C., calculated that in any given month 80% of us feel sick.

This is no news to doctors: Over the years, general practitioners have reported that anywhere from 20% to 50% of the people they see have no detectable source for their pain. Sometimes it's a diagnostic problem. But often, too, the symptoms are psychosomatic; we're stressed, we're anxious, we're worrying ourselves sick.

Of course, sometimes it's not simply the pain of being alive: 13 of every 1,000 people end up in the emergency room, the study authors found, and eight are hospitalized. Comparing the results to a similar survey done in 1961, they concluded, "The estimated proportions of persons reporting symptoms, visiting a physician, receiving care in a hospital

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