Many of the people who come to see me at my clinic are what I consider excellent “do-ers.” They follow the latest diet rigorously, they take complex regimens of supplements (which I often pare back), and are excellent at applying discipline and restraint in pursuit of wellness. There are, however, other domains of wellness that are equally important and the way we pursue them is both pleasurable and flexible.
This diagram illustrates some of the other domains of well-being beyond physical health, which in turn, have meaningful effects on well-being and physical health. For example, a gratitude practice can make your brain more flexible and resilient. A 2016 study measured brain response and neural activity by fMRI. Subjects were taught to keep a gratitude journal, and then 3 months later, asked to engage in a “pay it forward” activity while in the fMRI. Those that practiced gratitude regularly had greater levels of positive brain activity, especially in the prefrontal cortex – an area involved in higher level thinking.
Another important “non-physical” domain of wellness is community and connection. These are especially relevant this year, as we navigate the new world order of minimizing our in-person social interactions. However, there can be silver linings – fewer friendships provide opportunity for quality over quantity and deeper, more meaningful connections. Science supports the value of connection (not surprisingly). A recent meta-analysis found that social connections protect against chronic stress and increase resilience to the endocrine imbalances that come from stress.
The diagram comes from a colleague’s project, in beta mode currently, that seeks to leverage happiness to boost healthfulness. Nola.com seeks to leverage artificial intelligence to learn what makes you happy, and then provide reminders to keep those things in your life, thus resulting in measurable health benefits such as lower blood pressure and less depression and anxiety.
So, balance out the “do-ing” of your wellness plan with a little more pleasure. Share a delicious meal with someone you care about. Laugh more. Practice gratitude. Volunteer. Do something for someone else. Whatever makes you happy (within reason!) – do it and enjoy knowing you are doing good for your health!