Institutionalize Happiness for Health

For as long as I’ve had the Internet, there has been a constant stream of research about happiness parading through my feed reader. The most impactful trigger of happiness seems to revolve around the quality of relationships that we cultivate with partners, families and friends. While that is just a scientific confirmation of age-old wisdom, the real interesting bits come from how happiness affects your health (stolen from WebMD):

• Get sick less often
• Less depression and substance abuse
• Lower blood pressure
• Less anxiety
• Natural pain control
• Better stress management
• Faster healing
• Live longer

Starting to see where I’m going with this?

I haven’t written anything in a while, so I may be totally off. But I do know that this is the New Normal. We have a generation of people who are growing up focusing on themselves, which means their sense of empathy isn’t as well developed as their grandparents or people in past generations. Without empathy, you can’t relate to other people. It’s not to say these people don’t want to build relationships, because who doesn’t? We are fundamentally the same as we were before; but how we act on those wants and needs are different today and we may need a little push.

A good friend of mine from Singapore told me about LoveByte, which is essentially a government run match making service for college graduates. On the surface, it seems no better than your mom doing it for you, but I believe its ambitions are grander than we think: people in relationships build families and families build communities. Those pieces form the strong support networks that bring the health benefits I mentioned above.

The sooner we get past the stigma of being lonely, the sooner we can think of loneliness as a disease that can be treated. I believe that it’s in the government’s best interest to be proactive about helping their citizens build these relationships. It can be a very compelling preventative care initiative for health care programs because of the impact to our emotional and physical well-being.

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2 responses to “Institutionalize Happiness for Health”

  1. Elisabeth Seng says :

    Great creative video on the merits of being alone:

    I think about this topic a lot. Incredible self-absorption seems to be one of the epidemics of our generation. The NYT had this article which touched on it, http://nyti.ms/dw54Ca. In it, an MIT professor questions whether young psyches in an Internet-enabled era are more performative, less authentic – especially in young kids who haven’t yet formed their own real-world identities, but assume and shape multiple ones online.

    Of course, scapegoating the Internet means we don’t have to take personal responsibility. Social media’s just a tool, and it’s up to our generation to learn how to use it constructively, instead of tucking our heads into our technological devices like so many superficial, narcissistic ostriches.

    Real-world giving to those less fortunate is a great first step to get anyone to think outside of themselves. Work at a soup kitchen, join the Peace Corps, or just buy a sandwich for a homeless dude. Do something. But doing these acts can’t just be about earning some kind of personal status badge (Tom’s Shoes is in danger of being misused this way). When giving leads to self-aggrandizement, it’s all about the narcissism again.

    Empathy needs to be promoted and actively nurtured. That goes beyond just taking action and creating tools to change behaviors. We need to construct a language and culture around this topic, so we can address these issues directly. Then, you know, double rainbows can happen.

  2. not eb says :

    A couple of thoughts which I can’t seem to string together:

    – I think, to a degree, that a lack of empathy will lead to more people’s happiness. How much of unhappiness is the result of not meeting your friend’s standards, your family’s standards, your community’s standards? A concern for over others might think? ‘I’m gay, but I can’t come out because it would ruin my family’s lives, they would disown me, etc., etc.’ We, to what you are saying, are becoming a people who are more concerned with our own self-happiness. Family was important for growth and society’s growth at one point, but the idea of unconditional love has always been flawed. ‘If you are an asshole, then fuck no, I don’t want to be your son. I’m going to go over here and be friends and family with people who accept me for who I am.’ We’re reaching a point in human development where we get to *choose* our family. It doesn’t matter what we’re born into, or what we’re bred into being. At any point, we can change that and become something else, and I personally think that’s marvelous. Defining a lack of empathy as ‘living for yourself rather than others’ isn’t a totally anarchic statement. On the contrary, it is freeing. I understand and agree that there’s a ledge we wouldn’t want to cross on our journey to un-empathy, but where we are isn’t terrible.

    – The internet is that thing that allows the above. I get to create a community around myself. I get to find, more easily than ever, a circle of people who fit my needs. In the past, all we had access to for friendship and growth were the people around us and, if we somehow didn’t fit that, or didn’t like that, we were fucked. The internet (and internet dating sites) let us interact outside our circle.

    – I don’t think ‘a companion’ is a cure for loneliness. I think the root cause of loneliness is ‘fear,’ and fear stems from many of the things I mentioned above. Fear of school, fear of family, fear of friends, fear of community, fear of society, and fear of government. We can’t speak out, we can’t do as we please, because there is a fear of consequence (rejection being one of them). As with before, there’s a limit to that kind of sentiment, and thus the reason for laws, but there’s a school and family policy of ‘do as you’re told’ which is not healthy. I don’t take issue with the government creating a dating site to keep some semblance of family/community alive, but I think they can do more to teach a lack of fear.

    – This also speaks to my beliefe that happiness is an internal thing, and no job, no girlfriend, no outsider can make you more happy than you allow yourself to be.

    – I don’t disagree with you harshly, by any means, but I’m also very interested in the idea of happiness and where it comes from so I’ve, uh, thought about it some.

    – A couple of links:

    – What makes us happy? from The Atlantic. The best article I’ve ever read, period, and it’s about happiness.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/what-makes-us-happy/7439/

    – I haven’t seen the entire documentary, but this little piece is worthwhile. A teacher in Tokyo teaches his students compassion, and how to be happy, which I think speaks to both creating empathy, and forgiving fear.
    http://dailycry.tumblr.com/post/241630194/in-the-award-winning-documentary-children-full-of

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