The science – Health and wellbeing are interrelated, so there are many wellbeing benefits from being healthy.
The solution – Increase your health as a path to increasing your wellbeing (or vice versa).
So far in this series we have covered aspects such as connectedness, communication, optimism, meaning, strengths, positive emotions, hope, gratitude and resilience. Now you might be wondering, if these aspects are good for my wellbeing, how do they impact my health? This is a good question to be asking because the science indicates that the relationship between health and wellbeing is largely reciprocal – increase you wellbeing and your health improves, increase your physical health and your wellbeing improves. Thus the mechanisms discussed previously (strengths use, hopefulness, etc.) are equally import for your health as for your wellbeing. So let’s get geeky in order to see how that actually unfolds...
Psychologists (and some other disciplines) have defined an area of study called ‘positive health’ where they specifically study ‘health assets’: factors that produce longer life, lower morbidity, lower health care expenditure, better prognosis when illness strikes, and/or higher quality of physical health - over and above the usual suspect risk factors like hypertension, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Whereas medicine has traditionally focused on the absence of symptoms and eradicating illness, and psychologists on the absence of distress and disorder, a more contemporary way of thinking is questioning if these foci are the same as (or equate to) health, happiness, fulfilment and vigour. Although psychology and medicine have done well with curing illness, disease and disorder, ameliorating these has not lead to optimal functioning – either health wise or wellbeing wise. Quite simply the absence of disease is not equivalent to good health. The ambitions of the field of positive health are more in line with the World Health Organisations definition of ‘health’, who back in 1946 defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
So take time out to invest in and consider your physical health as an asset to enable your wellbeing. Although this will require time, self-reflection and exploration, and effort, even very small improvements in health status can boost wellbeing. Ask yourself: What activities can you do to improve an aspect of your physical health? To improve your nutrition? To improve your sleep? To improve your exercise regime? What activities do you love to do that could positively impact your health, and thereby increase your wellbeing indirectly?
For more information:
Seligman, M. E. P. (2008). Positive health. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57, 3-18.