I’ve always been someone who tries to live a healthy life. I’ve fasted and exercised to the point of pain. But every now and again a dark thought creeps in that says basically, “what’s the point?” Is it really worth suffering now just to add a couple of years to life later? Life is so unpredictable in any case. I might just end up the healthiest body under a bus, or the leanest corpse in the cemetery.
As a society we seem to aspire to living longer, but do we really know why or what we’re wishing for.
Countless studies over the past 10 years have shown that we ARE living longer, but we’re NOT healthier.
Mark McCrindle, an Australian researcher and futurist summed it up nicely,
“Life expectancy is increasing not because we’re making better health choices, such as eating better or exercising more. We’re living longer purely because of medical interventions. Our discipline and lifestyle choices have not matched the medical ability to sustain longer life.”
I wonder if it’s a question of pride. Wellness has been narrowed into the ego’s smallest concerns such as vanity and looking younger, six packs and smooth skin. Even living longer seems a little selfish once we become a drain on resources.
There is also a cynical part of me that wonders if most of the current focus on “wellness” is just a consumer beat up to fund an industry that is making us anxious, obsessive and a little self-focused.
These thoughts have been roaming around my mind for a while now. Then mum died and some pieces of the puzzle came together. In short, I realised that wellness is a gift, and like any worthwhile gift, it needs to be given away.
Mum was an organ donor. I’d never thought much about this process until I went through it with Mum. It definitely changed the farewell experience, adding time and additional decisions to an already traumatic time. But it’s what Mum wanted, so of course we did it willingly.
Mum was too old for her heart to be donated but her liver and kidneys (and eyes) were so healthy that they immediately found recipients. Now here is the amazing thing. The fact that Mum had lived a healthy life actually made her a better organ donor.
Mum was an incredibly generous and giving person throughout her life, probably the most generous person I’ve ever known. And she was just as generous in death and beyond death. This is the very definition of legacy. Her wellness is still giving and for all we know may have saved lives. And who knows what those people will do in the world. Mum’s wellness was a gift that will keep giving beyond our knowledge.
Here’s what I decided to do as a result of Mum’s example.
1. Become an organ donor myself. Why not? My body and organs are no use to me once I’m gone.
2. Stay healthy in a balanced sort of way, not to live longer but to make sure I have energy to live a meaningful life now AND to make sure my organs can one day be useful to others.
3. Stop buying into wellness fads. The latest super food is no doubt amazing, but the quantity I would need to consume to make a difference to my health is likely astronomical. Not to mention the social and environmental impact of taking control of resources out of the hands of local people in developing countries. (Imagine that Bolivians who provide so much of our desire for quinoa can no longer afford to eat the grain that has been a staple in their diet for generations. And most of us couldn’t pronounce quinoa a few years ago.)
Eating a moderate, balanced diet of regular foods that are local to me is just fine.
I guess my problem with the current wellness approach is that it’s one dimensional. It’s about my health only, and it’s only about one aspect of my health.
True health is common sense. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And true health takes into account a whole range of factors, for yourself and others.
Mum taught me so many things about living a meaningful life and this lesson on generous wellness is one of her most enduring legacies. Wellness that is just about me is too small. Putting the WE back into wellness makes all the sense in the world.