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Happiness, health and longevity

Dr. Victor Ti / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Zeko, 73, poses for a portrait at his home in Punakha, Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world that has a Gross National Happiness that places more emphasis than a Gross National Product. Being happy matters a lot to Bhutanese, compared to material wealth. Photo: Reuters

The belief that economic development is the best way to improve our health status could well be a blunder of our world leaders of this century until recently. This erroneous belief created a stressful rat-race society that is all out for money at the expense of their health and wellbeing.

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a big idea from a small country at the foot of the Himalayas, named Bhutan. This great idea could change the world favourably. It is an index that measures the collective happiness and wellbeing of a country’s population.

While the rest of the countries in the world had hitherto been looking obsessively at their economic index called Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the most important development index, the government of Bhutan took the lead to place the importance of Gross National Happiness (GNH) above its GDP.

The phrase ‘Gross National Happiness’ was introduced by the then 16 year-old king of Bhutan, King Jigme Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.”

Sadly, our world at large has been too engrossed with ‘money making’ to the extent that the fundamental human goal of happiness and wellbeing were significantly sidelined. It took them almost 40 years to see what the young King of Bhutan declared.

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution, “Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development.” while urging all its 193 member nations to follow Bhutan as their model. A year later, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmey Thinley and then United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon together convened a high level meeting on a New Economic Paradigm entitled Wellbeing and Happiness to encourage the spread of Bhutan’s GNH philosophy.

When we are unhappy, we are indeed killing a part of ourselves and if that unhappiness continues, it will soon reach the threshold of diseases and ultimately death. Science Daily once reported this: A review of more than 160 studies of human and animal subjects has found “clear and compelling evidence” that – all else being equal – happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.

Both human and animal studies demonstrated a strong link between negative emotion or stress and poor health and longevity. Experiments in human found that positive moods reduce stress-related hormones, increase immune function and promote the speedy recovery of the heart after exertion. Marital conflicts and high hostility in married couples were associated with slow wound healing and a poorer immune response.

The lead author of the studies, Professor Ed Diener, University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology said, “I was almost shocked and certainly surprised to see the consistency of the data. All of these different kinds of studies pointed to the same conclusion: that health and then longevity in turn are influenced by our mood states.” The evidences suggest that the contribution of positive emotions and enjoyment of life to better health and longer lifespan is stronger than the data linking obesity to reduced longevity.

From the review of the 160 studies mentioned above, it becomes obvious that happiness is linked to good health and longevity. The next six million dollar question that we should all ask ourselves is, “What is the single most important factor that determines happiness in our life?”

The answer to this question also reveals one of the greatest secret of good health and longevity. This answer was recently derived from the longest 75 year-old Harvard study that involved several generations of researchers, most of whom never lived to see the fruits of their study.

Ironically, the answer is not at all what most people have been going after. Most of us have been wrong all this while. It is not money, and not at all fame. Neither is it social class or status. Indeed, it is relationship,

relationship, and relationship.

Close relationships are what keep people happy throughout their whole lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents. They help to delay mental and physical decline. The finding leads Professor Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School to say, “Taking care of our body is important, but tending to our relationships is a form of self-care too.”

Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills,” he further emphasised. “It is as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” The sad truth is, we can be lonely in an overpopulated world. We can also be lonely while being married.

We should all learn from the result of this important laborious study involving so many generations of diligent researchers. Even, Waldinger himself admitted that he had to eat the humble pies of the revelations. When asked what lessons he had learned from the study, Waldinger, who is a Zen priest, said he practices meditation daily and invests time and energy in his relationships, more than before.

Perhaps the good effects of good relationships are just not confined to human relationships. It would be logical to extrapolate the findings to include good relationships with all forms, be it animals, plants or the environment. Thus, in my humble opinion, passionate lovers of any forms such as animal or nature lovers would also enjoy similar benefits. Bear in mind that empathy, compassion and harmony with fellow humans, animals or nature is the way forward towards a long, happy and healthy living. Caring for others is in a way caring for ourselves.

Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves not to regard money as the purpose of life. Money should NOT be the end of our pursuit. It should be the means to a good end. That good end is HAPPINESS. The result of that end is a GOOD LIFE – health and longevity.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” This are the words said by Aristotle, one of the ancient great philosophers, more than 2000 years ago. His timeless words of wisdom shall ring true forever.

Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skill in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977 Facebook name: Victor Ti.

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