For thousands of years learned and knowledgeable people have spoken of the importance of healthy lifestyle habits to wellness and happiness. Hippocrates, for instance, is known to have said “The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine”. Also Socrates stated "eat to live not live to eat". I’m sure you have all heard someone saying at some stage things like “you are what you eat”, “every journey begins with a first step” or even “a man who is too busy to take care of himself is like a builder who is too busy to take care of his tools, neither is worth having round”. One of my personal favourites and one I certainly live my life by these days is “my body is a vessel carrying my spirit, if I don’t look after the vessel my spirit won’t ever get to where it needs to be”. So what do all these sayings have in common? In some way they are all talking about the important mind-body-spirit connections that exist and mediate our wellness.
Well before science became a field of knowledge, humans were aware that health, happiness and wellbeing were interlinked. Many indigenous societies have forged strong cultures around understandings of the connectedness of mind, body and spirit and the natural world around them. Many Eastern societies have forged strong cultural values around ancient understandings of wellness that very much reflect similar mind-body-spirit connectedness as a priority for wellness. An integral part of Chinese medicine is the understanding of Qi (or life-force) and how it is produced, spread and mediates wellness. Qi is said to be acquired daily through what we eat, drink and the air we breathe. Qi is then transported throughout the body along internal lines known as ‘meridians’. Chinese medicine believes that imbalances in the Qi as can be caused through eating “poisoned” food, water or air, or blockages in the flow of Qi along the meridians that can be caused by toxic build ups resulting in physical and/or mental illness. Even the Old Testament which is heavily founded around ancient Middle Eastern ways of knowing and being, and the New Testament with its Roman Catholic and Anglo Protestant influences suggest many examples of greed and gluttony as sinful, leading to lapses in wellness for perpetrators. Happiness in the same teachings happiness is spoken of as being achieved through giving and expressing gratitude. While many societies globally have lived by this knowledge for hundreds if not thousands of years, the west and western science has only recently acknowledged the benefits of such ways of being.
Western science has traditionally seen the wellness of mind and body as separate and often forgotten spirit all together however, in recent years, western science has opened up to take on a more holistic view of wellness. More and more healthy lifestyle is being spoken of as multifaceted. Academic literature is being published supporting the long held and practiced understanding of Indigenous and Eastern philosophies. Science has shown that certain foods assist with improving mood and that excessive alcohol consumption causes not only physical health problems but a gamut of mental health concerns also. Science is also now showing that disconnection from spirituality, friends and family are mediating factors in experiences of psychological distress and that ongoing psychological distress is linked to both the formation of mental illness and chronic disease. The biggest movements in western psychology of recent funnily enough have been in the areas of positive psychology and the practice of mindfulness. One of the strongest practices of mindfulness advocated for in terms of producing increases in positive mood and wellness is that of expressing gratitude. It is suggested that showing gratitude for what we have each day lessens us thinking of what we don’t have in turn increasing our appreciation for and happiness around that of which we do have. Be grateful for time with your family and friends rather than only drinking with them, be grateful for the beautiful food that earth provides that we have access to and appreciate the time it takes to prepare it yourself, be grateful you can exercise in whatever way works for you and most of all be grateful for life.
So, as a culturally strong Gamilaroi man, father, psychologist, and researcher what is my perspective on all this? It is simple. Wellness is multifaceted, it requires us to be attentive to all that is important to us and to make our lifestyle choices based on the impacts it has on those we are connected to. While we cannot control the thoughts and actions of others, when we live well we can influence those close to us to live well also and that’s deadly (meaning awesome). By increasing our activity, watching what we eat and drink, building and maintain connectedness, we can live longer happier lives for ourselves and those we love.
I really appreciate the steps you have all taken on your Fabruary journeys and working towards living well!