Is Health A Choice?

Health is a term that is constantly referenced in modern society. It’s most basic definition is the state of being free from illness or injury, according to Merriam Webster, but it has become a very flexible adjective for describing a multiplicity of things: we can talk about healthy people, healthy animals, healthy relationships, governments that function in a healthy way etc. So what does health really mean? Going a step further, what does it mean to be a healthy person?

The World Health Organization, the UN’s special agency on health, defines health as being a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. If you think about it, this is a pretty loaded statement, and it goes far beyond simply being free from physical ailments. According to the WHO, being healthy means achieving a kind of harmony with all of the major factors in our lives: the social, physical, environmental, and psychological/spiritual. So how do we achieve the kind of health that the WHO promotes?

First, it is crucial to acknowledge that the WHO’s definition of health in some ways mirrors Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. You can only be as healthy as the environment around; if you are a Somalian refugee that has been affected by terrible famine, your primary health concern is meeting your physiological needs for survival, not worrying about whether you have the right fad diet, clothing brands, or if you are happy in your career. Those kinds of worries are luxuries.  Plain and simple: Environmental/physiological health is the basis of achieving social and psychological/spiritual health. In this light, many of us living in the developed world seem to have lost our way—we take our physical health and environmental resources for granted, and instead of searching for healthy balance in our lives, we indulge in overeating and vices like cigarette smoking and drugs. So how do we get back on track and keep our health and wellness holistic and integrated? The answer is easy in theory and hard in practice: we make a choice to be healthy.

A lifestyle that keeps you physically, socially, and psychologically/spiritually healthy is about making the choice to be healthy and then building the habits that support that choice.  Contrary to popular belief, we are in control of our feelings, desires, thoughts, and habits. If you want to be socially healthy, choose to surround yourself with loving, stable, and caring people. If you want to be physically healthy, do your best to stay active, eat right, and get enough sleep. If you want to be psychologically or spiritually healthy, take the time to learn your strengths and weaknesses as a person and work to bring your mind into a positive, loving, and happy place—however that manifests for you, whether through meditating, prayer, or a long walk in nature.

Health is difficult to define yet at the same time we all know what it means, because we can all sense when things are unhealthy. You may not have the power to control everything in your life—you can’t control whether or not you will get cancer, you can’t control whether or not you will be born into a dysfunctional family. But you do have the power to control how you will react to adversity and how you will pursue a healthy lifestyle built on healthy habits, and that is the key—we don’t have to achieve perfection, but we can continuously pursue balance and happiness.

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