One of Positive Psychology’s hopes is for people to understand that they have the ability to take some control of their own wellbeing and health. This is what I am hoping this blog will encourage you to do too. One of my previous posts looked at Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Happiness Pie. Lyubomirsky states 40% of our happiness is within our own hands to change. And only a mere 10% of our happiness can be attributed to our life circumstances, which we may or may not have entire control over i.e. our race, gender, where we live etc. But critics have argued that only providing 10% to one’s ‘context’, means it is underdone (Brown & Rohrer).
Substantiated or not, we are often presented with health facts by the media, doctors or our parents. We are told that if we ‘don’t smoke, drink alcohol, exercise regularly and wear sunscreen’, we will be healthy. And if not, our lifestyle choices may lead us to health issues.
Yet there are some factors that are outside of our control that can have an effect on our health. For instance, the society in which we live may have a great impact on our health, and our income and access to public services may influence our health choices. This would explain why men in the lowest socioeconomic class in England are almost three times more likely to suffer from psychological disorders than those in the highest (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2011; Lomas, 2015). And why citizens of countries like Denmark consistently record higher rates of wellbeing compared with Syria, Togo, Iraq etc. (World Happiness Report, 2015).
This can lead us to be more aware (particularly in the face of an upcoming election) that the Finance Minister probably has more of an impact on decisions affecting our health than the Health Minister does. What’s worse, in some countries, the Government and policies put in place to protect their citizens are in fact doing the opposite. In his book, The Health Gap, Michael Marmot discusses the challenges of an unequal world and states that “we should be seeking to improve the social environment and take steps to give people the freedom to lead lives they have reason to value.”
Health is created and lived by people within the settings of their every day life; where they learn, work, play and love.World Health Organisation, 1981
So rather than suggesting we follow the common sense health advice we regularly hear, David Gordon, a Professor of Social Justice and the Director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and the Bristol Poverty Institute at the University of Bristol in the UK, has offered a very alternate set of tips. Many will consider Gordon’s list confrontational and controversial, yet his intent is for us to think differently about how to maintain our health.
So yes we need to follow a balanced diet, cover up in the sun, manage our stress levels and be active, but our health may be more impacted by the different contexts, in which we live and the systems, in which we belong.