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Imagine a game show in which the grand prize is a lifetime of good health. Would people still cheer and weep with envy when someone becomes a winner? “Yay! You’ll never have to worry about being sick again!” Do only those who’ve lost their health realize how beyond price it is? We pretend good health is a given, something any poor slob with good luck can have. We don’t mention that we expect to be sick and broken. We cross our fingers and hope REALLY HARD for wealth, as if wealth or fame or even power can keep us healthy…or make being debilitated more enjoyable? Of course, as we’ve seen, wealth and power CAN guarantee you receive the best of care, but the best is often not good enough. Immortality is still elusive—unless you count having your head removed and frozen into the future.
Many people like to exercise the emotional muscles they used as children, defying the evidence scientists spend years compiling to give us guidelines for staying alive. “Who cares!” they snarl. “It’s all a plot, anyway.” And when members of their ranks fall ill and/or die, they say the loss was unfortunate but normal. Life ends. Get over it. As self-appointed leaders instruct their followers to do the equivalent of drinking poisonous Kool-Aid, the believers obey…or they’re bullied to by loyal defenders. They’re persuaded that they don’t need evidence to certify essential tonics. They don’t notice the gurus seem to always sell a unique elixir that will almost certainly cure the problem. No one wants to be the one who looks wimpy or out of touch with modern trends or who will be damned for not believing! Better to play the odds, even when they’re not in your favor.
A minority of the population takes health so seriously that they care about nothing else. I know a man who checks his blood pressure several times daily if not hourly using the monitor on his wrist. In fact, he does little else but fret over his health. He’s on a first name basis with various hospitals for his many surgeries meant to protect and preserve him. When he finally expires, he’ll leave knowing precisely what his numbers were. Others work out past the point where the benefit outweighs the effort. In fact, according to an early documentary, in one of Dr. Dean Ornish’s heart health groups, the only participant to die was a physical education teacher who exercised fiendishly—relentlessly pushing himself to do more and more and more each day. We want to believe society recognizes what security looks like. A dear friend of mine was determined to have enough retirement money to live comfortably as well as enjoy plenty of health insurance. When the stress of her job started exacting its toll in increasingly dramatic ways, she kept working, regardless. The golden retirement year was in sight! But she died…horribly…of cancer and never had a chance to use her account.
Most members of modern societies have a good idea of how to optimize health: exercise regularly, eat healthy foods in moderation, sleep well, minimize stress. Many make a stab at caring for themselves if they truly love who they are and want to have a few more years to build a life. But perhaps the most reasonable approach to health is to ask yourself what makes life worth living? The survivors of disasters have the answer: “We’re alive and together!” Love and community out score numbers…of years, of finances, of achievements. Being healthy generally allows more time to make the years beautiful. Conversely, making your own corner of life happier and more beautiful tips the scale toward good health. As Count Rugen warns in THE PRINCESS BRIDE: “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”