What's important to keep in mind about this study are the differences between the surgery and the non-surgery group; both of these groups of individuals sought out a cosmetic surgery consultation, but they were not the same (psychologically speaking) as one another. The group that decided not to have the surgery reported lower self-esteem, quality of life, and feelings of attractiveness and higher symptoms of anxiety and depression. So at the outset, these patients weren't doing as well. At the one year follow-up, these comparison individuals reported even lower self-esteem, much lower quality of life, and more problems with anxiety and depression. This has an important implication. These decreases make some of the improvements in psychological outcomes for the surgery group seem bigger than they actually are. In other words, had the comparison group remained stable in their depression symptoms, anxiety, and quality of life, there would have been little to no meaningful improvements in these outcomes for the surgery group. Therefore, while the study claims that having cosmetic surgery increases happiness and mental health symptoms, it would be more accurate to say that choosing not to go through with a surgery that your feel strongly about may result in you feeling worse a year later. However, it's likely that whatever was making these patients worse off to begin with contributed to why their psychological functioning worsened over time, rather than merely choosing not to get cosmetic surgery.
Regardless, this type of research is important. At the very least they found that changing a specific part of your body that you find problematic actually does result in you appreciating your body more, or feeling more attractive. Any other benefits would have just been extra. And within the surgery group, most people did report more satisfaction with life and improved mental health a year after the surgery, so there is no evidence that cosmetic surgery has any negative psychological consequences. Yet, there is still much to learn about the relationship between the decision to get cosmetic surgery and happiness.
First, I expect that people who have cosmetic surgery are looking for longer-term gains than just a year after their surgery. What we know is that the surgery will lead you to be a little bit happier and healthier one year later, but what about after that? What about 5 and 10 years later? We just don't know. Second, there was a wide range of ages and procedures here. Overall, that gives the study more validity, but leaves us with a question of for whom are these benefits strongest? Perhaps people who get rhinoplasty are happier than people who get liposuction, or perhaps women in their 40s are empowered by getting these procedures while women who are in their 20s are less likely to see dramatic psychological gains. Are we creeping closer to being able to quantify someone should get a desired procedure based on when they will gain the most psychologically? What also remains to be seen regarding the choice to have cosmetic surgery and happiness is how this group might compare to individuals who have never been in for a surgery consult, or simply just a community sample of individuals, regardless of their interest in cosmetic surgery. And thus, we answer one question with several more.