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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

IS THAT ALL THERE IS? OR, IS THERE MORE TO HEALTH THAN MEETS THE (MEDICAL) EYE?

Tuesday October 21, 2014

Introduction

A visitor to the Wellness Center here at SeekWellness recently asked, “Is there more to health than not needing too many medications, not having a disease, not being overweight, not being a smoker or someone who drinks too much? Or, is that what being healthy is basically all about?

I consider this a profound question that invites attention to a much neglected challenge facing medical and other health experts. How many of that number can explain the nature of health separate and apart from the symptoms of its absence. Not many, in my opinion.

Peggy LeeThe question reminded me of a song I loved in the sixties and still do. It was made famous and performed best by the great Peggy Lee. If you have not heard it lately or, if you are quite young (not even 30), if you never heard it at all—and if you are feeling philosophical, give a listen. It will put you in the mood to reflect on the profound, many-part question put to me by by an articulate site visitor. Give yourself a treat—listen to this historic recording of Peggy Lee singing, “Is That All There Is?

Well, IS That All There Is?

Reviewing watershed moments in life, including the moments when the end nears, Ms. Lee’s refrain is haunting, profound and existential—all at once.  

Is that all there is?

Is that all there is?

If that's all there is my friends

Then let's keep dancing

Let's break out the booze and have a ball

If that's all there is.

You will have to decide if that's all there is in the largest possible sense—we all have our opinions about the meaning(s) of life. One of my favorites was spoken by Robert Green Ingersoll in a memorial tribute to his brother Clark: “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud—and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word. But in the night of Death Hope sees a star and listening Love can hear the rustling of a wing.”

I’ve devoted nearly 50 years to the idea that there is a great deal more to health than the things noted in the visitor’s great question. Let me tell you what health is all about. In doing so, I hope you will come to see that an understanding of attainable positive health greater than the absence of negative conditions is vital for the American economy, as well as the prospects of Americans to successfully pursue life, liberty and happiness, to consciously appreciate that health is well beyond the need for meds, the absence of disease, the avoidance of overweight and freedom from destructive addictions.

What Positive Health Beyond the Margins Looks and Feels Like

Health is about happiness, joy and exuberance. It is about thinking critically, having passions and causes, feeling great about life and being at the best you can be in physical and mental ways consistent with genetic, environmental and cultural factors, and the vicissitudes of random fortune. And, Peggy got it part right—it’s about dancing, mentally as much as physically at every chance. Ingersoll, the great 19th century American orator, said that nobody should fail to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in his path. That’s part of what health is about—being as able as you can be to experience life fully to the very end. 

Health beyond the margins of non-sickness consists of ever-changing, positive physical and psychological states. These states of high level functioning cannot be diagnosed or assessed in the manner that illness and disease states are scientifically assessed for treatment purposes. Positive health is not like a game or race that can be scored or timed. Notice the difference in categorizing illness versus wellness states of exceptional well-being. 

Contrasts: Illness/Wellness

An illness state is assessed as follows:

A wellness or more-than-not-sick state is assessed as follows:

Exercise physiologists can measure excellent physical states, such as lean body mass relative to fat or composition ratios, oxygen capacity and so on. In addition, age-graded performance measures are available for assessing strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. Finally, psychologists can administer batteries of tests to assess effective mental functioning. 

But in the most important ways, that’s not all there is to health beyond the margins of mediocrity. The person who feels joyful, knows love, exudes kindness, feels valued and enjoys community is modeling and enjoying health of the highest level. Unfortunately, this is a standard not much taken into account in the medical or so-called “health care” system. 

But that does not mean you can’t set and realize to the extent possible a positive, enriched dimension of positive well being. Just don’t look to doctors, drugs or other agents to guide you along the way. It’s just not a function of medicine—it’s a lifestyle challenge, a responsibility that rests on your shoulders. It’s worth the effort and there’s no Orange peelneed to measure it. 

Is that all there is? With regard to the meaning of life, why we’re here and what it’s all about, I don’t know, but I’m satisfied, as was Ingersoll, that “the highest philosophy is to enjoy today, not regretting yesterday and not fearing tomorrow. So let us suck this orange of life dry, so that when death does come, we can politely say to him, ‘You are welcome to the peelings. What little there was we have enjoyed.’”

Be well and keep on dancing.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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