After three decades of dedicated effort to advance the ethos and practices of wellbeing – and feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a huge boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down – I can honestly say that wellbeing has truly arrived. And I am delighted!
My delight was fueled in part by recently presenting at the 2015 Art & Science for Health Promotion conference, a gathering of wellness leaders and professionals from business, community, nonprofit, healthcare, education, and other sectors. Over 900 people from countries worldwide attended – greatly surpassing participation in prior years – and the energy of the event was palpable. One of the golden threads I felt weaving throughout the experience was a sincere desire to transform the common, reactive focus on health risks toward promoting wellbeing as a lifestyle.
A few of the conference highlights for me:
- David Katz, Director of Yale University Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital, claimed that we’ve devised a modern world where calories are easy to get and physical activity is easy to avoid, a predicament that is harming us as a species. He estimated that if people were to choose a healthy lifestyle as their medicine, we could eliminate 90% of diabetes, 80% of heart disease, and 60% of cancer. Big numbers! Yet he also acknowledged that to motivate lifestyle change these grand stats aren’t enough; they are simple too dry and impersonal. Efforts to improve population wellness must speak to people personally, and this means messages and approaches relevant to the goals and challenges of everyday life.
- Epigenetics expert Dr. Karen Wolfe shared a unique infographic from England’s NHS Atlas of Risk to put the leading causes of death into perspective. Take a quick peek: when it comes to our ultimate demise, smoking, low fruits and vegetables, and lack of physical activity greatly outweigh war, medical complications, infections, and murder. But more than that, Wolfe highlighted that everything we do – whether how we eat, how we deal with stress, or how we move – affects the physiological environment surrounding our genes. This in turn influences what genes are expressed and reproduced. In essence, our lifestyle behaviors today shape the health and wellness tendencies of generations to come.
- National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner shared the Power 9: nine lifestyle habits that make for a long and thriving life gleaned from what’s now known as our world’s Blue Zones. Fortunately, if fully embraced, these lifestyle habits can transform a community into a hotspot of wellness.
- Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, shared her insights on positivity and the human brain. Her studies show that building an emotional strength of positivity helps us: feel more socially connected, respond to life’s curveballs with greater resilience, see past what often divides us (such as race, age, gender, and worldview), and experience greater possibility and hope for the future. The positivity practice of loving-kindness meditation also decreases inflammation and increases our body’s protection against harmful viruses, plus it boosts our experience of eudaimonic wellbeing. (Here’s a loving-kinded meditation to use if you need an immune system, wellbeing-inspired boost right now.)
- Participants at my presentation – 100 Wellbeing Leaders That Are Transforming the World (Making Us All Happier, Healthier & More Productive) – were a sincere treat! What they reinforced with me is this: making wellbeing a priority in how leadership is done is no longer bleeding edge (or even leading edge). Leading this way is the new normal.
Wellbeing has truly arrived. Are you and your organization ready? I can promise you that no matter where you are on the journey, it is worth it!