|Health. What IS it, anyway? And is "willpower" a thing?
||[Feb. 13th, 2016|12:53 pm]
When people talk about "health", they mainly are talking about physical health. Which is important, don't get me wrong. People are starting to talk about mental health, too, by which they seem to mean mainly emotional, psychological, and neurochemical health, ALSO all vitally important.|
But I don't think those are the only kinds of health. I think that we can use the concept of "health" much more broadly.
In my conception, there is physical health, mental health, social health, psychological health, emotional health, spiritual health, moral health, and probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking of, too. And each of those has lots of components, too. But those are a decent starting point, anyway.
This conception, by the way, is strongly influenced by Aristotle's idea of "eudaimonia", or "a good life", which basically says that happiness has lots of different parts to it, which include physical comfort, health, family, being respected, and lots of other stuff. Me, I'm saying "health" instead of "eudaimonia" or "happiness" or "a good life", but they're definitely all living in the same neighborhood.
But the reason I'm using "health" is that I want to emphasize that all of these things are part of the same thing, and as such, they all interact. Being more physically healthy helps your emotional health. Being more emotionally healthy helps your psychological health. Being more psychologically unhealthy harms your physical health. Social health helps emotional health and spiritual health, and so forth. Every single part of health interacts with every other part of health.
And so it is important, when considering physical health, to consider how it interacts with all other parts of your health. If changing your eating habits harms your social health or your emotional health, you need to consider how much the change would affect all sorts of different things, and make sure to balance all those out.
Because, while improving one part of health will often improve other parts of health, that's not always true. Sometimes, an action will help one kind of health and harm other kinds. I've made decisions based on my moral health that harmed my social health, for instance.
Fasting on Yom Kippur is an action which harms one's physical health, but, for many people, helps their spiritual, moral, and social health, and thereby helps their emotional and psychological health. And so you have to balance those things -- and in some cases, the hit to physical health outweighs the benefits. Staying up for a midnight movie or book release or something may harm your physical health, but help your emotional and social health. Stealing a loaf of bread may harm your moral health, but help your physical health.
And you have to consider ALL of those -- and not feel guilty or ashamed of making the choices which are OVERALL best for you, even if you can see that they harm one or another parts of your health.
What does this have to do with willpower? A while back, I mentioned that I'm dubious that willpower is even a thing at all. What I think people are talking about when they talk about "willpower" are situations in which some parts of our health are in conflict with other parts of our health. And the decisions we make based on those situations will be different depending on the strength of those needs.
I think that all decisions we make are the decisions which are in our own best interest at the exact moment that we make the choice. Sometimes, if our current needs aren't too urgent, we can include our future self in that comprehension and calculation -- and sometimes, our immediate need is great enough and urgent enough that we simply CAN'T consider our future self, because we have to deal with the immediate situation in order to survive. Mahatma Gandhi wrote "It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon. But how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them God can only appear as bread and butter."
Now, he was talking literally, about literal people and literal bread and butter. He includes how it is a literal insult to them to ignore the reality of the urgency of their situation, and to talk to them about God when they're hungry.
But we can expand that to be metaphorical -- we can think about urgent needs of other types. Any of our types of health can be in critical danger, and it may necessitate an intervention which has long-term negative consequences, because it's the only available intervention, and not making some sort of intervention will lead to critical damage.
Like cutting. People cut because they are in a critical situation, and, even though they are aware that cutting costs their long-term physical health, but their current situation is critical and urgent enough that they require an intervention. And to NOT intervene would cause even MORE damage. Perhaps of a different sort, but more.
What is "willpower"? It doesn't exist. A person with more "willpower" is just a person who has more interventions available, or a person whose situation is less critical. If two people want to cut, and one does and one doesn't, it doesn't mean that the cutter has less willpower; rather, it means that the non-cutter's situation was less dire, or that they had other interventions available.
It is an insult to ignore the reality of the urgency of our situation. If we want to change behaviors to ones that have fewer long-term negative consequences, we need to provide different interventions. Some of those involve learning different skills; some involve changing our environment; some involve changing the situation.
Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about. There are many different kinds of health, all of which interact. Sometimes we make choices that help some forms of health at the expense of other forms of health. So-called "willpower" is merely the situation of having different choices available -- a person with more "willpower" is merely a person who has either a lower need, or a person who has more choices available, including some that help with the first form of health while damaging other forms less.