Since times immemorial, the human race has sought health, happiness and wealth —not necessarily in that order. Wars have been fought and lives have been lost due to the overwhelming desire of possessing them. These three basic ingredients are thought to be essential for a meaningful life. Ironically, in our crazy race for securing 'happiness and health', we at times are actually moving away from it. Life has become so hectic and busy that it is taking its toll on our health and wellbeing. More and more people seem to be suffering from a host of health related problems, courtesy different types of stresses of everyday life, which are more often self created.
The WHO slogan for World Health Day,2011 (which is on 7th April) is Combat drug resistance - no action today, no cure tomorrow. This is so very true, not only for our physical health, but also for our emotional well being. If we become resistant to love and compassion today, there will be no cure from negative thoughts tomorrow. It seems ridiculous, but alas! It is true that people lose their health to make money and lose their money to restore their health. By thinking seriously about the future, they forget about the present, such that they live neither for the present nor for the future. They live as if they will never die and they die as if they had never lived.
Even doctors and scientists agree that a positive and happy attitude towards life goes a long way in curing and healing physical/mental ailments.
In Bhutan gross national happiness has been the yardstick to measure the country’s prosperity since 1970. But recently, even the British Prime Minister David Cameron has joined the bandwagon, saying that, "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general well-being. Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets."
"GDP is crumbling as a target – it is already out of date," says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics and behavioural science at the University of Warwick. Oswald was one of the first economists in the country to research what he labels "emotional prosperity."
There is a growing body of research which feels that happiness is mandatory to preserve good health. Normally public health research focuses on the study of disease to combat ill health. But way back in 1938, Dr Dr Arlie Bock, the director of the then Department of Hygiene at Harvard University, decided to focus this research on young healthy men. "All admit that the sick need care, but very few apparently have thought it necessary to make a systematic inquiry as to how people keep well and do well," he said. The Grant Study of Adult Development, initiated by Dr Bock, is the world's longest-running study of adult life, and provides some interesting insights into mental and physical well-being. Under this study researchers have been studying men in the USA, following them from adolescence to retirement, with the aim to discover what it takes to live well.
George Vaillant, (pronounced valiant) the director of this Harvard study, points to the strength of evidence provided by it. "The power of the Grant study was that it had 73 years of real behaviour – not just self-reporting – with which to judge its notions of a rewarding life."
By the time the Grant Study men had entered retirement, researchers had identified seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically: Employing mature coping skills (like stoicism and altruism), was one of them. The others were education, a good marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Vaillant's interest lies in the power of relationships, and in finding a correlation between healthy aging and human happiness. According to him, "Warm, intimate relationships are the most important prologue to a good life. It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging."
"Life ain't easy," he points out. "Terrible things happen to everyone. You have to keep your sense of humor, give something of yourself to others, make friends who are younger than you, learn new things, and have fun."
"Understanding the links between well-being and health is an important aspect of the work of WHO," says Somnath Chatterji,, a scientist in the Health Statistics and Informatics department of the World Health Organization. "This will help develop policies for promoting health in ageing populations, which are facing increasing chronic illnesses."
Ed Diener, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, in the USA, who has studied the effect of happiness (or subjective well-being) for 30 years, says, "There are many types of data all pointing to the fact that happiness leads to health and a longer life, of course, among many other factors."
Scientific research apart, we are all aware that happiness of the mind has a direct impact on our mental and physical well being. We see this all around us. Jealousy, anger, intolerance, and other negative feelings are some of the poisons which can undo the curative actions of the best of medicines and make us perpetually unhealthy. How often do we crib about a colleague/acquaintance who is always complaining about others and about life in general? On the other hand we also recall proudly about those who face life’s challenges with a smile. They may be medically under a cloud, but spread sunshine around them, and in the process mitigate their own physical woes. There are many empowering stories of ordinary men and women who got a control over debilitating sickness through sheer will power and a happy disposition. My mother is one of them. Despite being crippled by arthritis, she leads a full life at the age of 82 years, spreading joy and happiness in the life of all those who come in contact with her, unmindful of her constant intense pain.
So begin this World Health Day with a morning prayer of thanksgiving to God; eat healthy food during the day, topping it up with contentment and cheerfulness; go for an evening walk; find some time to stand and wait till her mouth can, enrich that smile her eyes began (a la W H Davies); and, above all, make at least one person smile.
Repeat this every day, and you have the perfect recipe for a happy-well rather than sad-sick existence.
Respect life with all its ups and downs, and live it to the fullest.
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI).She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)