Updated: Jun 7, 2020
Health and Wellness are buzzwords these days but what do they really mean? Where do we get the right nourishment to achieve health and wellness? And why should we care? The reality is that most people want to be healthy, happy, and well, but few have the knowledge, resources, support, or drive to do what it takes to maintain the health and wellness that we all aspire to. There are three areas of our lives that I consider critical if one is to achieve health and wellness. Many tend to assume that if we eat well and exercise regularly, we should achieve health and wellness. And these two are important areas to focus on. However, there are three other areas that we tend to leave out or at least we do not prioritize them enough to gain the benefits that they too bring to our wellness equation. The three that I am including here are:
A sense of purpose.
What does self-awareness have to do with health and wellness? Self-awareness helps to establish a direct link between what we do or sense and how we feel. It is an action/response relationship that brings meaning and clarity to our inner and outer worlds. Regarding the foods we eat, self-awareness serves as an internal alert system that guides us towards making the right food choices. The concept known as bio-individuality, which is based on an understanding that "one person's food can be another's poison" reminds us that we alone know which foods agree with us. With a strong sense of self-awareness, we can make a direct connection between how our bodies feel and what we ate prior to that feeling. Self-awareness serves us well if we want to maintain a healthy balance in our diet. With self-awareness, we will recognize which foods are healthy for us. Such foods will not cause acid reflux, bloating, constipation or other discomforts that manifest themselves instantly or over time. Self-awareness allows us to recognize when we are hungry and when we are full. As we develop a greater sense of self-awareness, we will also improve our sense of connection and awareness of the needs of others, leading to enhanced social connectedness.
Where does social connectedness fit into our quest for good health and wellness? Human beings are social beings. People living in family settings or in households where they eat meals together tend to establish stronger bonds than those in which family members eat by themselves. People who live alone or eat alone most of the time, often do not prioritize cooking their own meals and choose to either eat out or eat quick and easy meals that are oftentimes unhealthy. While eating out provides an opportunity for social connections and gives those who cook regularly a needed break from the kitchen, restaurants chefs are hired to prepare food that sells and not necessarily healthy foods.
We lose control over the amount and type of oil used in restaurant foods and some oils, including many vegetable oils, have high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids, when heated, can lead to the formation of carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents. So, for those living with others, eating home cooked meals offers the opportunity to eat better foods while also being socially connected. Those who live alone can also opt for cooking with friends and rotating kitchen so as to make it more of a social experience than a lonely one. This will enhance health and wellness. There is also a lot of research linking a lack of social connectedness to depression. In his book, Spontaneous Happiness, Dr Andrew Weil writes that, “if you want to be in optimum emotional health, realize that social isolation stands between you and it.” He recommends reaching out to others and joining communities of interest as a key to mental health and happiness. Belonging to such communities also gives us the opportunity to discover our passion, serve others, and find our purpose in life.
How does discovering our sense of purpose fit into this picture? It is about allowing our lives, our voices, and our values to speak for themselves, and guide us in the decisions and choices we make. It is about the sense of peace we gain from knowing that what we do is in alignment with who we are and what we value the most. It is also about using our innate gifts in ways that can transform and bring encouragement, love and beauty out of those around you. With a deep sense of purpose, comes the drive to do what you know is right because it serves the needs of others in ways that are empowering. Often, it is not about individual intentions or what others, including parents or teachers, think we should do or be. It is about listening to that voice within, calling us “to be the person we were born to be, hence fulfilling the original selfhood given us at birth by God,” as Parker J. Palmer shares, in his book, Let your Life Speak. A deep sense of purpose is not shaken by life’s turmoil, in an emotionally damaging way. Even when things don’t go well, when we have a sense of purpose, we will bounce back much more easily and reconnect with the deeper meaning of life and what is most valuable to us. We will know that all is well even when to others all seems to be wrong.
Therefore, health and wellness can be reached by working in three important areas of our lives: increasing our self-awareness, which helps us look inward for ways to enhance our physical and emotional wellness; focusing on social connectedness, which takes us out into the world to realize fulfillment through connections to others; and living with a sense of purpose, which links individual gifts and options to the impact we can make in the world.