Kent Bottles: What Have I Learned About Keeping Myself Healthy, Happy and Well
I was surprised this morning when I took my shower in my South Minneapolis basement apartment on Portland Avenue. The shower which is usually lazy and dribbly at best raged forth and hit the other wall of the shower stall. It is true that I had sent the landlady an e-mail noting that the shower was rather anemic, but I was shocked that she really had somebody fix it.
As I showered, I realized how much this small improvement in my daily routine was affecting my spirit and mood. I stayed in the shower a long time and just felt happy. I guess I really surprised myself with how much this small event meant to me.
So, at the age of 57 what have I learned about being happy and healthy and well?
The following categories have over the years had an enormous impact on my health and wellness and sense of happiness: sleep, exercise, food, connection, being in the moment, and unexpected pleasure.
I do much better if I sleep eight hours a night. I sometimes work too hard, and I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night excited about an idea or a thought. I am not at my best when I do not get enough sleep, and I have made rather stupid mistakes at work and in my personal life when I am very tired. The Harvard Health website lists six ways getting enough sleep contributes to wellness (http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health.htm).
It does not matter if I walk around a lake in Minneapolis, climb all 12 flights of stairs to the ICSI offices, or run on the treadmill; I am happier and more productive if I exercise every day. Even in the dead of a Minnesota winter, I enjoy wearing my sheepskin coat and walking around Lake Nokomis or Lake of the Isle. I even love walking all around the Minneapolis Airport. The MayoClinic.com lists seven ways that exercise improves your health, and I can attest to all seven (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676).
Minneapolis has been a revelation in that there are a lot of great neighborhood restaurants where one can get great food. Birchwood Café, Corner Table, Alma’s, Cosmos, 112, 124, Heartland, Meritage, La Belle Vie, Grand Café, Maude’s, Heidi’s, and Strip Club are all great places to eat. When I eat well, I feel better and I perform better. Michael Pollan has been a big influence on getting me to eat better and think about food in my life. He recently wrote about Rules to Eat By such as “Don’t eat anything that took more energy to ship than to grow” and “When drinking tea, just drink tea.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11food-rules-t.html?ref=magazine). Pollan’s books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food really influenced my attitude toward food.
Human connection (http://www.thebrainmatters.org/resources/neurologynow/?event=home.showArticle&id=ovid.com:/bib/ovftdb/01222928-200703030-00001) and its importance in our health is a hot topic. I find it hard to really connect with people. Many times I chafe at the apparent superficiality of most of my interactions with my fellow human beings. However, it is marvelous when I really connect. It can be over ideas or a football game (Hawkeyes or Philadelphia Eagles) or a book. When I really connect I am happy, but it is a relatively rare event in my life. There is a less intense form of connection that is helpful in maintaining my optimistic view of the future. The encounters with people I barely know impact me a great deal. The shoe shine man in the Milwaukee airport who is so enthusiastic and boisterous. The man behind the bar at the French Meadow Bakery in the Minneapolis airport who brings me my coffee and granola with a smile. The stewardess who is genuine instead of phony and insincere. The co-worker who really means what she says. All of these seemingly unimportant connections turn out to be incredibly important to me, and my sense of well-being.
Being in the moment is something that I learned from my mentor, Dick Lynch. Dick was so good at concentrating on the person before him, on the problem of the moment, on the difficult pathology case that needed a correct diagnosis. It really does help to forget about the past and refuse to think about the future. The present is really all that matters. I am reminded of the Mark Twain quote that my colleague Duncan Gallagher introduced me to: “My life has been filled with misfortune, most of which never occurred.” The more you live in the present, the more fulfilled and happy you will be (http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=41252).
My last observation on being well, happy and healthy is that one needs to remain open to small, unexpected pleasures. I am reminded of how happy I can become when I find a blanket on a regional jet where there are often no blankets for anyone. I have a wool suit that is part cashmere that is so soft and so comfortable that I am happy whenever I wear it. The discovery of a parking space in St. Paul near the Capitol can make my day. When I gamble on a Hotwire special airfare option and the times work well with my schedule, I am ecstatic. I think one needs to be aware of the many sources of joy that we all encounter everyday. I think part of this is becoming a satisfier rather than a maximizer. These terms from neuroeconomics were best explained to me by Barry Schwartz in his book about choices (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=14872453). It is important to be happy with products and situations that may not be perfect, but are good enough. Satisfiers are always more happy and healthy than maximizers. The perfect is often the enemy of the good.
I am 57, and I know how to keep myself well. It has been a long journey, but it is nice to learn something along the way.
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