The Health and Happiness Thing

by Bella Rum

denmark_2667866bH used to be a guy who didn’t know the difference between a blood pressure reading and a cholesterol count, but in the last decade, all of that has changed. He has become interested in all things health/exercise/diet/maintenance, and he’s done a good job on the exercise/diet/maintenance part, which is essential if you want to keep the health part.

But the real secret is consistency. Consistency is everything when it comes to health, especially as we get older. You can be in the greatest shape you’ve ever been, but if you stop your routine (even for a week of vacation) you see and feel the difference. You can hide it when you’re young, but it’s easy to recognize the older person who was consistent and the one who was not. You can see the years of discipline or lack there of.

I’m in the ‘lack there of’ group. H has been working on me, trying to “encourage” me to exercise daily. I’m trying. I know I need it. Distraction is my problem, all the things that I allow to get in the way. Exercise has to be a real priority for me, a religion almost. If I don’t become a little fanatical, I peter out.

When we still lived in Maryland, I was in my dentist’s waiting room one day when I peered over the top of my magazine and noticed an older gentleman. I could see his flat stomach, broad shoulders and perfect posture. I had no doubt that if an intruder with a butcher knife came bursting through the door, this old guy could handle him. I knew immediately he was with the Naval Academy. He struck up a conversation and sure enough, he was a professor. Sure enough, he worked his butt off to keep that awesome body. Discipline! Which leads to consistency.

I had a health/gym teacher, Mrs. Saunders, who alway said, “Exercise is not like your homework, if you miss it today, you cannot make it up tomorrow. You’ve MISSED it forever.” She was as fit as a fiddle and as flexible as a rubber band. Mrs. Saunders understood consistency and discipline. Now if they could sell that in a can, they’d have something.

I watched a Dr. Sanjay Gupta show yesterday. Have you ever watched him? I have not, but I’ve recently caught little bits and pieces of him here and there, and he’s pretty interesting. Dr. Oz is a little too show-boaty for me. He reminds me of a carnival barker standing outside a tent. “Right this way, ladies and gents. For a mere twenty-five cents you can examine an enlarged hart, touch a cirrhotic liver, smell a perforated colon.”

Anyway.

Yesterday, I caught a half-hour show that Gupta did on happiness. He went to Denmark, according to World Happiness Report, one of the happiest countries in the world. What makes us happy? A combination of higher life expectancy, employment, social support, generosity, freedom to make life choices and lower perceptions of corruption. It doesn’t hurt that they work less hours, either. There’s little or no poverty. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, the tax rate is high – 53%. Whew! The citizens did not quarrel with high taxes. “Fairness” was the priority.

“The world’s ten happiest countries, according to this year’s World Happiness Report, which looks at earnings, living standard, employment, mental health and family stability are Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Australia, Iceland and Austria.” Source: Telegraph

There was less focus on ‘things’ and more focus on experiences. As most of us have heard or learned, we tire of new toys within a few months, but the memories of an enjoyable experience tend to create a sense of well-being long after the experience is over. Trust is another factor, trust in your neighbor, trust in your community, trust in your government. A place where you don’t have to lock your bike or fear letting your child play in the front yard while you’re inside, and the unemployment and distribution of wealth plays a part. All of the top ten happiest countries had good economies, very low unemployment, and their workday is shorter than countries that did not rank in the top ten. And they live longer. The community aspect is extremely important to happiness. Family and social interactions foster contentment. Lots of friends and extended family make for a happy life.

Oh, yes, and there’s laughter. Laughter plays a role in mental and physical health. Even if it’s fake laughter. Yes, fake laughter works. The body doesn’t know the difference. Forced laughter creates the same endorphins, the same health benefits as real laughter. Go figure. Babies laugh about five hundred times a day. Adults laugh about forty times a day.

I think the real lesson here is about community. Most of the people said they had someone they could count on in an emergency, someone who would drop everything and come to their aid. This is important for all ages, but it becomes a serious concern as we age; not having someone to count on creates fear and anxiety in the elderly. Being connected, having health care, education and low unemployment are conducive to happiness, and don’t forget laughter. Laughter is huge.

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