What’s the opposite of health? If you’re like most people, you said “illness.” But anyone who’s felt chronically listless or out-of-sorts without having a medical condition will tell you that wellness is much more than we commonly give it credit for.
After interviewing numerous doctors and patients for health articles for national magazines, and doing research for my new novel (where energy healing plays a role), I’ve come to envision health as a mile-long continuum; disease is merely the last 50 yards. Before that are myriad ways our body or brain performs less than optimally: We might dully muddle through the day, barely have interest in food or sex, or scream at a pedestrian who hasn’t cleared the intersection we’re antsy to drive through.
Some people accept these as normal states, especially if they’ve been feeling that way for a long time. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “the first wealth is health,” and, as with money, having enough to get by might seem okay. But, especially now that researchers know there’s such a strong mind-body connection, why not go all out—aiming for the health equivalent of a billion dollars?
Here are 6 signs–symptoms, if you will–that you are indeed in top physical and mental shape. If you realize you’re falling short, health experts suggest you strive to improve your diet (especially bumping up your veggie intake), boost (or start) an exercise routine, sleep a few extra hours, and meditate or take up a mind-body practice like yoga to lessen stress. After which you may find yourself hundreds of yards further down a health continuum you hadn’t known existed.
1. Fun-loving. How often do you smile in an average day? Now ask yourself how often a 4-year-old does. You’ve no-doubt heard the expression, “The joy is in the journey,” and that’s because the journey is all we have; the final destination is inevitable. A healthy person looks for things to enjoy whenever possible. I’m not talking about setting whoopee-cushions on people’s chairs, and, of course, some situations warrant serious (or sad) responses. But overall, life should feel fun and exciting.
2. Friendly. Do you like being with other people? Are you comfortable sharing at least some of what makes you you? The ability to get along with and to be real with others is a sign of inner contentment. And sweetly and joyfully responding to others indicates that your stress level isn’t on a hair-trigger. Friendly doesn’t have to mean you have hundreds of buddies (either in the real world or on social networking sites); a few people you connect to is sufficient.
3. Frisky. Some people are happy when sex hormones surge a few times monthly, others feel cheated if it’s not multiple times every day. Experts say there is no right level. (Of course, it helps if you and your partner are in sync.) But a healthy person should have the urge to undulate with some regularity. If you can’t easily recall the last time you felt horny–yes, I mean you, even if you’re a mom with young kids or an unmarried executive with overextended hours–something’s amiss.
4. Hungry. Here, there can be too much of a good thing; a voracious, unsatiating demand for food leads to overeating–and, ultimately, to the diseases that spring from obesity. But as with sexual desire, your appetite for food should recurrently stir: Meals should look good, taste delicious, and be pleasurable to consume. Take note if you’re going through the motions just because the clock says it’s time.
5. Energized. You might think your afternoon “I need a coffee run” slump is normal–after all, Starbucks is usually wall-to-wall crowded at 3 PM. But fatigue outside your regular bedtime or an intensive exercise session is a sign your physical or emotional health is askew. Ditto if you can’t get your juices flowing during many of your daily activities.
6. Satisfied. Do you regularly delight in what you have, or do you instead focus on what’s missing from your life? The native American Chief Mountain Lake was once quoted as saying Caucasians always seem to be “seeking something… they are always uneasy and restless”–a description equally applicable to many off-balanced, 21st-century strivers. Contentment doesn’t mean you can’t wish for better; I believe the desire to improve our lives is hard-wired into our psyches. It simply means being satisfied with where you are–even as you wait for the better things you know are on the way.
Photo: Katie Brady / Flickr