PETALUMA, CA, March 6, 2016 – The fact that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was getting a standing ovation at last November’s TEDMED medical conference in Palm Springs wasn’t in itself that surprising. After all, he’d just given a terrific speech about the relationship between happiness and health.
What was surprising was the fact that this was the first of only three ovations given during the entire 3-day conference, coming after 24 others had already given speeches. Either the audience needed to stretch or there was something special about his message.
Judging from his opening statement, I’m going with the latter.
“If there was a factor in your life that could reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, that could increase your chances of living longer, and would make your children less likely to engage in crime or use drugs, and that would even increase your success with losing weight, what would that factor be?” asked Murthy. “It turns out, it would be happiness.”
Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from the nation’s top spokesperson on public health. Of all the challenges and crises he could have focused on during his brief presentation, he chose instead to give an extended shout-out to the mental contentedness that comes from, in his words, “fulfillment, purpose, connectedness, and love.”
“We know that good nutrition, exercise, and sleep are essential tools for preventing illness,” continued Murthy. “Yet among all these factors for improving health, happiness stands out as a largely untapped and unrecognized resource that has the potential to transform health for individuals and for communities.”
Certainly the prospect of benefiting from such an effective, affordable, and readily available means to better health would make anyone stand up and cheer, even after listening to countless other speeches. But the more I thought about it, the more I got the feeling that these folks might not be cheering as much about the prospect of a non drug-based approach to health as they were the implication that health itself is not dependent on matter.
“Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love,” affirms Mary Baker Eddy, a late 19th and early 20th century medical reformer whose early life of trial and tribulation provided plenty of incentive to seek out the source and resulting health benefits of happiness. “It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it.”
Even so, the obvious question is whether Murthy might have put the proverbial cart before the horse by assuming that a happy person is a healthy person, and not the other way around.
“The truth is that while circumstances can and do impact our short-term happiness,” said Murthy, “our long-term happiness is far more driven by how we process life events than by the events themselves.”
Part of this processing has to do with where we look for happiness and, by association, for health. Is it something that originates with us or is it, as Eddy suggests, something that has its source in spirit, in the divine?
Obviously, switching cold turkey from a largely if not exclusively matter-based approach to health to putting one’s faith in the divine might seem a bit risky. But this isn’t what Eddy asked.
“Emerge gently from matter into Spirit,” she writes in Science and Health. “Think not to thwart the spiritual ultimate of all things, but come naturally into Spirit through better health and morals and as the result of spiritual growth.”
In other words, give it try. And if it works, I might add, stick with it.
While there’s some truth to Murthy’s assertion that “all of us have the power to create happiness in our lives,” I see it in slightly different terms. For me, it’s more about having the ability to reflect those qualities of thought that, to my mind, can only originate in spirit, in God, thereby benefiting not just us but others as well.
Just thinking about this makes me want to cheer.
Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.