“The change in the world economy is of a magnitude that comes once every hundred years. We are facing an unprecedented emergency.” Katsuaki Watanabe, author of this remark, is the president of Toyota. This statement was offered on December 22, 2008 while announcing the company’s first operating loss in 70 years – $1.7 billion.
Tina Turner made famous the question, “What’s love got to do with it?” This might be a good time to ask, What’s wellness got to do with it? Is a wellness philosophy as significant in the context of economic ruin as in times that pass for normal?
America and the rest of the world are beset with burst bubbles, bailouts and bankruptcies. Conditions are beyond serious – they’re a fright. There are multiple, interrelated crises – a loss of faith in markets and the economic order, a loss of hope for the future and a diminution in social connectedness. The daily news reflects high levels of worry, fear, insecurity, stress, self-doubt and negativity. This is the context for my question: Is the wellness concept as important now as before? Or, is wellness more of an option than ever, even a luxury of sorts with appeal mostly to privileged elites with the means to get their needs met AND aspire to a good and fulfilling life?
Consider a bit more detail on the extent of the current crisis. The American economy is sinking into a recession just this side of a depression. Frustration bordering on panic is evident throughout the land. Distress marks the national mood. Job losses (533,000 of them disappeared in November), the unavailability of credit from banks (despite massive taxpayer bailout funds later channeled in part for executive bonuses), the presence of pockets of severe unemployment (almost 14 percent in South Carolina), business failures, big losses in household worth due to market declines and the burst housing bubble – this is the context for the question posed about the viability of wellness as 2009 looms. If all this does not get your attention, consider the fact that Russian academic Igor Panarin predicts a US collapse by 2010, followed by a civil war and the breakup of the nation into five different countries. (The only good news is that Alaska will revert to Russia, thereby making Sarah Palin Russia’s problem, not ours – see Andrew Osborn, As if Things Weren’t Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S., Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2009.) In summary, in case you had not noticed, the world’s coalmine seems littered with dead canaries.
On a bright note, Americans will have new leadership in a few weeks. The president-elect is amazingly popular at the moment (73% approval), but even the most optimistic Democrat knows Obama is no fiscal Superman or supernatural economic turnaround messiah sent from above. Obama’s $775 billion economic recovery plan, announced a month ago, already seems too little, too late. Rebuilding the infrastructure with WPA-like bridges, roads and other projects will be helpful, but some economists predict it won’t be enough to arrest a national slide toward a deeper state of crisis. (I will refrain from expressions like ruin and despair.)
Given this context, let’s pause for a hard, cold look at where wellness fits, if indeed it fits at all. Of course I refer to REAL (reason, exuberance and liberty) wellness, a mindset or philosophy of personal responsibility, optimism and commitment to affirmative, evidence-based principles for making choices small and large. Not the same as prevention, risk reduction or illness management – REAL wellness is a unwavering focus on exceptional health and quality of life.
Little public attention is given, in good times or bad, to positive health and life satisfaction. Instead, the focus always seems to be on the many frightful consequences of NOT doing the right thing. At a time of financial crises unknown since the Great Depression, it is fitting to ask if our philosophy for good living has a place, alongside the struggle millions are experiencing to feed their families, pay their bills and provide for the welfare of their children. Is this an appropriate time to proclaim the applications of a wellness lifestyle and, if you think so, how is this communicated to those struggling at the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy?
I suggest a REAL wellness mindset is always important. In hard times, little else will make a quality difference, for the better. REAL wellness will liberate those who embrace it and enable advances toward the most important kind of prosperity, namely, physical and psychological well-being. Given the stresses of today’s fiscal turmoil, perils await those who seek only comfort and relief. The best ally in the quest for economic recovery is a positive lifestyle that promotes personal health and builds upon positive social connections. Economic perils are best faced with positive attitudes, high resolve of mental discipline and peak physical strengths, not while mired in a struggle against negativity.
Wellness itself does not solve any financial problems. However, it helps in reaching and maintaining first-rate levels of physical and mental functioning. That state can in turn facilitate the pursuit of activities that best advance opportunities and manage crises.
Consider some factors that make REAL wellness a winning philosophy in hard as well as good times. As you know, REAL wellness entails:
* A disciplined focus on the bright side.
* A commitment to personal excellence.
* A regard for social support and the value of communities.
* A willingness to secure and work to maintain high standards of physical fitness.
* A continuing conscious pursuit of added meaning and purpose.
* A desire to comprehend the phenomenon of happiness and realize some measure or degree of it, as circumstances permit.
* A continuing respect for personal honor associated with the art of applied ethics
* A recognition that it’s best to want what you have and to live in the present (versus bemoaning what you had before or could have had save for an errant decision or two). An excellent book on this approach to prospering in the best sense of the word is Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher.
* A predisposition to take the time to appreciate the beauty around you, in natural as well as human forms.
* A sense of gratitude for the fact that, while conditions are difficult, there is so much left to celebrate and resolve to appreciate.
* An outlook marked by compassion for others in general, as well as a mindset of forgiveness for those who may have contributed to difficult circumstances. (Yes, include in the latter even George W. Bush. But, not the Devil. Humans need someone or something as a scapegoat, even if they have to invent such characters to make their saviors seem deliriously wonderful by comparison.)
Some still might fret at the contradictions in the affirmative nature of REAL wellness, such as sketched above, and hard times, massive human suffering, scarce resources and widespread worry and fear. Is REAL wellness of a positive nature not a guilty indulgence while Rome (and the rest of the world) burns? Or not?
The proper answer, I say, is Absolutely not! Major not! In fact, au contraire, no way Jose and just the opposite. Now more than ever, we need a REAL wellness philosophy to deal with challenges greater than normal. Much greater than normal, in fact.
A healthy lifestyle that includes physical, mental/emotional and social components will protect and build your immunity while maintaining and boosting your morale. The REAL wellness qualities sketched above (a partial list, I might add) are invaluable for weathering the proverbial storm (s) AND for building a capacity to flourish.
Wellness qualities are always advantageous, but when times are tough, such qualities lend toughness, as well. The weak in body, mind and morale will be first to succumb to unrelenting demands, stresses, setbacks and other misfortunes that accompany prolonged crises. Furthermore, family, friends and perfect strangers need you at your best, providing leadership, guidance, inspiration and hope. Judd Allen, like his father Robert F. Allen before him, often describes the health and other positive benefits that follow when people come together for support, for entertainment or to seek political solutions. All are helpful ways to boost well-being, no doubt even more so when budgets are light and conditions difficult.
There are no guarantees, even with a bright-side outlook, but more than ever, it will pay to adopt and practice REAL wellness. To be physically fit, mentally strong and resolute, adaptable, flexible, resilient and capable is a formula for success in bad times – and good.
If these comments seem plausible and convincing, if you agree that REAL wellness makes sense in normal times and more so in crises, then you will want to support public policies and private initiatives that make such learning and living opportunities widely available. For instance, you will want to support continuing worksite wellness programs, knowing that the common reaction to less business might be to pull back programming to save money. This is an ideal time to not only deal creatively with the current crisis but to prepare as well for the future. Let’s explore innovative new approaches to healthy, productive work forces and work settings. Similar thinking should influence the shape of health system reforms. Likewise, apply REAL wellness values introduced with varied public programs aimed at creating jobs, rebuilding the economy and making individual life and society itself better than before the economy fell apart. Perhaps solutions to the fiscal downturn will only be possible when we more effectively work together for solutions that meet the needs of all classes, not just the most advantaged.