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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘happy’

Measuring Health Part 3: Emotional Well-Being “W”

2016 is an Olympic year. We will hear stories, as we do in every Olympic cycle, of the extraordinary physical accomplishments of Olympians in sports which require otherworldly amounts of what we in the CrossFit world would consider “Fitness”. Strength, speed, and agility. Uncanny feats of coordination and accuracy, some performed over distances and times that are so far beyond the reach of the average human as to defy credulity. Many of these athletes, certainly the ones we will meet through the intercession of NBC, will match our expectations of the happiness that must certainly accompany such outsized achievements. Mary Lou Retton, anyone? Indeed, what we will see on our screens will fairly scream “Healthy”.

But there will be others, too. And for all of their physical fitness, expressed so dramatically for our viewing pleasure and patriotic zeal, the lack of emotional health will make it obvious to anyone that they are not healthy. Bruce Jenner, anyone?

Remember our proposed definition of “Healthy”: Able to perform in all ways at the farthest limits of one’s potential capabilities. Health is therefore the state in which no infirmity is, or can in the future, impede this ability to fulfill a potential. It takes but a moment to think of how mental illnesses such as depression, bi-polar disease, and schizophrenia can be hidden from view when examining only physical metrics. There are examples all around us. The woman who partners with a 1400 pound horse in the rigorous, physical tasks required to compete in the three-part test that is eventing, so poised and accomplished in the arena, who retreats to solitude outside the barn because she is incapable of overcoming her anxiety around people. The outdoorsman who in his manic phase performs feats of strength and endurance others can only marvel at, and then plunges into the depths of depression from which he cannot see the noon-day sun. Much more prosaic and much more common is the individual who continually increases his or her fitness by any and all measurements due to a deeply held sense of low self-worth, perhaps even self-loathing, pursuing an unreachable ideal and always falling short.

A truly universal measurement of health must include some element of emotional well-being. Let’s call it “W”. You could certainly call it the “Happiness Factor”, and some undoubtedly will. I imagine criticism directed toward this to take the form of “Happy Face” mockery. No matter. Well-Being is a better term for this part of our equation because it encompasses more than whether or not you are happy, whatever happy may mean to you, when you are measured. Are you content with your circumstances at the moment? Do you have the ability to persevere under duress?  What is the state of your relationships? A recent study of Harvard men carried out over decades found that both happiness and longevity were tied quite closely to the quantity and quality of your relationships with family and friends. Where are you in your pursuit of your goals, your dreams, and how do you feel about that? How much stress do you perceive in your life and how are you managing that? All of these make up what one might think of when we consider Well-Being.

How, then, should we go about measuring ‘W’? Remember, all of our tests should meet the dual imperatives of being accessible to pretty much everyone, and as inexpensive as possible. We could certainly use something like the classic anesthesia “smily face” pain scale, relabeling the figures, but this feels too simplistic and too momentary to be truly applicable. Our measurement should require a bit more thought than that. I have to admit here to countless hours of internet crawling trying to find a validated test of emotional well-being that has a track record in a heterogenous group that mirrors our population; most have been utilized in very specialized populations (e.g. soldiers) with a very specific research interest. Those that might apply must typically be purchased.

John Pinto is a well-regarded consultant in the world of my day job, ophthalmology. He has long had a list of clients that spans the gamut of pretty much every measurement you could think of in a group of doctors. Men and women. Young and old. Fantastically successful doctors and those that could only be described as spectacular (if unexpected) failures. As part of his quest to better understand his clients in order to better serve them, John used a questionnaire that measured emotional well-being. He found that external measurements of success such as volume of surgeries, income, and professional acclaim did not always coincide with his clients sense of success, their emotional valuation of their professional lives. These were certainly variables that mattered, but his happiest clients were not always his wealthiest, and his least happy not always those who had less. The assessment he used is the best one that I’ve been able to find, notwithstanding the fact that it is not free.

(http://psychcorp.pearsonassessments.com/HAIWEB/Cultures/en-us/Productdetail.htm?Pid=PAg511 ).

I am not wedded to the Psychcorp assessment and would happily review any alternatives. Especially if they are free! As is the case with ‘M’, our traditional health metrics like blood pressure and serum lipids, I expect a vigorous debate as to the relative weight of ‘W’ in our final Health Index. My bias is that ‘W’ is a current factor with a greater impact on health, and it should have a correspondingly greater weight in our formula. Let me start the “bidding” with double; however the final formula shakes out ‘W’ should have twice the value of ‘M’.

Mental health is an inextricable part of health. It must be included in any serious definition and measurement of health. Our variable is “Well-Being” or ‘W’.


Mindful Living Courtesy of Stuart Scott

It’s still January. My birthday has come and gone and I now sit at another milestone age, 55. As is my wont I will embark on several months of data collection on myself, a sort of 5 year/50,000 mile check on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. New Year’s Resolutions are easy every 5 years because this is in motion. A visit to my internist, various and sundry bloodwork, and trying to find time for a thallium stress test and a colonoscopy are the medical items on tap. I will assess my fitness regimen in an effort to maintain my CrossFit-induced gains while simultaneously reducing any injury risks. “Peak and Tweak” as my friend Bob is saying for us 1960 Birthdays.

Sadly, I’ll probably have to program some training that is specific for the run on the stress test, but that’s another story.

This “Housekeeping Resolution” does not preclude any other, meaningful reflections. Stuart Scott, the well-known ESPN anchor, won’t see 55; he passed away last Sunday at age 49 after a very public 7 year battle with cancer. I was thinking about him the other night just before Beth and I turned in. The day had been uneventful if you measure your days by notable happenings, but I’d spent my day doing things I enjoy, surrounded by people who generally make me happy. I told my “Better 95%” just that as we drifted off to sleep, the voice of the person who makes me happiest the last sound I heard that day.

Here’s Stuart Scott articulating my single additional Resolution better than I can: “I am acutely aware at most moments when I’m doing something that I love that it is a precious thing. Every moment that I am doing something that I love, I will stop and I will take a conscious acute mental moment to say, ‘This is living. This is why I am living.’ And I [will] have them regularly.”

That in a nutshell is precisely what I plan to do. I will be mindful of those tiny moments of happiness, not just epic events. I will continue to seek those things and those people who make me happy, not just try to avoid those that don’t. More than even that I will try to be mindful of my opportunities to bring a bit of happiness, or somehow reduce happiness, in those same people who make me so happy.

Those moments and be yours, too. Don’t miss them.