What does being healthy and happy mean to you? Perhaps you feel it’s got something to do with your outer appearance, or maybe you’d like to be less sad or anxious. Whatever your interpretation of those two words, healthy and happy, I’ll guarantee the answer isn’t as simple as you think it might be. Life doesn’t work like that because if it did, as soon as the ‘gift’ you wished for had arrived you’d no longer be looking for the next thing to make whatever ails you better. Let’s face it happiness isn’t delivered by Santa or by the latest gadget or must-have look.
So if health and happiness aren’t delivered to us, how can we ever expect to be healthier or happier?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines health as “the condition of the body and the degree to which it is free from illness, or the state of being well“. And the medical dictionary defines it as “a relative state in which one is able to function well physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually in order to express the full range of one’s unique potentialities within the environment in which one is living. In the words of René Dubos, “health is primarily a measure of each person’s ability to do and become what he(/she) wants to become.”
Personally, I prefer the latter definition because it fits with both my own lived experience of health and happiness AND my observed experience of working with many thousands of women over 20 years. Because of both these things I’ve come to realise there are five things which are common to being in a state of health and happiness more of the time than not:
Being honest with yourself (and sometimes with others)
We all know what the problems are but we’ve become adept at drowning out the still, small voice with the many distractions of daily life. But, when the sun has set and we’re in the dark of the night they’ll rear their head in showing up in anxiety and sleepless hours. Sometimes, the only thing you have to do for things to start changing is to accept there’s something that could be better.
Recognising the benefits that being unhealthy gives you vs those that being healthy does
There are two sides to everything, and sometimes there are multiple sides; but it’s often easier for us to believe the illusion there’s only one. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said to me that they couldn’t prioritise their health because things would change. In my own life this manifested in my relationships as a desire to be fussed over and looked after. The reality for me was that I didn’t want things to change because it was too scary, in fact it was so scary I avoided taking responsibility for myself until I was in my 40’s. Once I’d fought that particular dragon though, I noticed I grew as a person and my life flourished in ways I could never have imagined.
Accepting responsibility for your life (health and happiness) rather than making it someone else’s problem
I’m ashamed to admit that there have been many times in my life when I’ve blamed someone or something else for whatever health or happiness issue I have. It was easier to point a finger rather than accept the circumstance I found myself in was of my own making, and was simply the outcome of decisions I’d made in the past coming to their full fruition in the present. Since realising that the decisions I make here and now will play out in the future, I’m much more likely to make better choices. Not that I’m a saint by any means, I can still get caught up in the immediacy of the moment!
Creating change at a pace that’s manageable
It’s very tempting when change becomes inevitable to throw up your hands and say ‘right let’s change everything’; and some circumstances will force that to happen. Most of the time though it’s much easier, and mentally healthier, to move forwards in small incremental steps. In my work I encourage people to change just one thing, one thing that will have an impact so they see the benefits reasonably quickly. The reason I do this is that I know, from my own experience and watching others, that when you have one shift safely under your belt, it’s much easier to see the benefit of taking another step.
Choosing to see the good in your life and health as your default position
Remarkably, the news we see around us day in and day out, isn’t actually representative of the life we are all living. Instead, it’s mediated by corporations who have very mixed reasons for portraying the world in a particular way. That doesn’t mean to say that bad things don’t happen, of course they do, but we don’t live in the soap opera many newspapers and channels would have us believe. The challenge the media presents is that it encourages us to see only what’s bad in our lives, but if you look closely that’s minimal compared to the good. Right now I can almost hear someone shouting about redundancy, coronavirus, disease and debt that seem to surround too many lives. But even in the worst of circumstances there is hope and good things. Choosing to see what’s good and being grateful for what we do have doesn’t minimise the tragedy of events that happen, but it does mean we see things more clearly without being consumed by despair.
Over the coming weeks I’d like to explore each of these topics in much more detail and explain how they define and inform both your sense of a healthy well-being and your overall happiness.