The Meaning of Health

I’m still not the sleep champion of Casa Minify. Top honors go to this little lady (elegant, isn’t she?):

After watching my cats for the last week, I take back everything I said about learning from them on the subject of sleep. Cats are lazy little critters. Mine sleep at least 18 hours a day. They don’t just value sleep. They lavish in it. To excess. Mine get up around 2 pm, take a nap for an hour or two around 4:30, and go back to bed no later than midnight. It’s amazing they find time to eat.

Today, though, I want to talk about something other than sleep. (I’m 12 for 14 on getting my 7.5-9 hours for all of October, by the way!) I’ve been thinking a lot during this project about what health means to me. In part, this is because one of my doctoral seminars has been focusing on that very topic – what is health, and how do we define it? It it something you either have or don’t, like cancer? Is it something we have in relative amounts (can we be more healthy or less healthy)? And what should I compare my current health to? Some ideal standard? Me at my best? The people around me?

It does appear, from our class discussions, that people compare themselves to their peers when assessing their own health. I’ve observed that in working with older adults. They often say things like “I know I’m doing pretty well because I can still walk, and remember where I am, unlike the lady I have dinner with every night.” But I’ve been thinking of my own health, over the course of this project, not only to my future expectations (I’ll live longer if I do these things) but also to how I feel in the present. My main motivation for getting more sleep over the last two weeks has been that I know I feel great when I’m well rested and terrible when I’m not – I’m thinking more about what tomorrow will be like if I go to bed early, and less about how my present actions will affect the 7o year old me down the road.

Our class decided that health isn’t the goal of life, but part of how we achieve our goals – health means being able to do the things you want to do every day (or, in the parlance of our seminar, to participate in your meaningful occupations.) I like that definition, but I also think health is about feeling better. I’ve been putting so much more effort into my academic pursuits over the last few years than I have into feeling well. Two weeks of being well rested has left me thinking that health, or healthy behaviors, has some intrinsic rewards. It hasn’t just helped me do the things I need to do. It’s also improved my quality of life.

With two weeks to go, though, I’m already thinking about what next month’s healthy change will be. Should I try to eat more vegetables? Take up yoga (again)? Any suggestions are welcome!

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