As a member of the health profession, I feel it is my duty to have a good answer to this question, especially since I promote the idea that “All You Need Is Health” through my work. However, there more I ask myself the question, the harder I find it is to come up with an answer.
But health is the absence of disease, isn’t it? Yes, I agree. When we lose our health, we are suddenly faced with the reality of illness and our lives are changed forever. For many of us, this is when we realize how precious life and health really are. Our healthcare system is founded on the definition of health as the absence of disease. When there are symptoms of disease, we treat them, end of story. But the absence of disease is actually only a small part of the story. We must go a little further if we truly want to experience health.
In order to create and maintain health, several fundamental needs must be fulfilled; we need food, clean water, shelter, and basic hygiene - needs that unfortunately are yet to be met for many people in our world. Without satisfying these fundamental needs, it is next to impossible to maintain health. Where I live many people have these needs met relatively easily, yet I still don’t see a society that radiates health. I don’t see people with boundless joy and energy. I actually see a lot of tired, stressed out and anxious people.
What is missing then in order to achieve and maintain health? Even with our basic needs met, why isn’t good health something that we all enjoy? As it turns out, there are many other factors beyond meeting our fundamental needs that have a role to play. According to the World Health Organization, health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.” Now we’re getting somewhere, maybe a bit closer to a more holistic definition. But what does it mean?
Disease is the absence of health, but health isn’t merely the absence of disease. If we remove disease, we still won’t achieve health. The WHO calls this physical, mental and social well-being, I call it balance of body, mind and spirit. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the thoughts we think, how we spend our days, how we feel, and the people who surround us all affect our health. Eating bad food, feeling down all the time, hating your job and living next to a highway will all impact your health in a negative way. Try eating whole foods, following your passion and surrounding yourself with people you love and you’ll feel totally different.
Of course, this looks different for everyone when we apply it to day to day life. This is where individuality comes in. Health means something unique to every single person and the way to achieve health is also different for every single person. There is no manual for health. There are basic principles but no manual!
For me, this means eating healthy food, it means living in alignment with my values, it means spending time doing the things that fill my soul, it means spending time in nature, playing music, community and connection. It means laughter, love, and forgiveness. it means living in the present moment. It means always being and becoming the best version of ourselves. When I get too comfortable and confident with these, they start to slip and some aspect of my health will follow suite. This is because health is a journey, not a destination. It’s not something we work for and either have or don’t have. It’s something we must constantly work to improve.
So you see, health is not as simple as the absence of disease. In the face of disease we take medicine to regain our health, but that doesn’t fix what got us sick in the first place. There is actually an intricate combination of factors that come together to create health and, interestingly enough, when we start to include these factors into our lives, we quickly notice improvements in all areas of our health. Don’t wait until you get sick to think about your health. Start eating only healthy food and you’ll have more energy, be in a better mood, lose some weight and feel better about yourself. This is when we begin to experience the balance of body, mind and spirit that brings us to achieve what I believe is the most important marker of health: happiness!