This is an essay about the dynamics of healthy choices. After outlining this essay I will first go into some detail about what inspired it. Then I will write about the importance of believing that you have a choice. And how consumerism makes us want to deny choice. Then I will mention an ideal value that I have come up with before going on to say why I don’t believe in it being “compulsory” to do good. Then I will write about how I believe that metal health comes before physical and social health. Finally, I will summarise.
I am a keen punter who likes to spend $ 25 per weekend at the T.A.B. This is a choice I make, and despite some peoples’ presumptuousness it is a healthy choice. There is no law of the universe that says I “can’t” blow all my money at the T.A.B. I choose not to do so because it would be unhealthy to do so. Within my passion for horse racing lies my passion for getting big dividends in the classic horse races, one of which is coming up on November 6th. But I am involved in Access Radio, and it is their A.G.M. on November 6TH. I felt ambivalent as to whether I should attend the A.G.M. that day, and do my betting online the day before, or whether I should attend the A.G.M. and let go of betting altogether that day. Deep down, I knew it would be better to let go altogether, and remind myself that much as I like betting on the classics, betting on the classics is not a “need”. So I spoke to a clinical psychologist friend of mine who does monivational interviewing, and he persuaded me not to bet at all that day. This got me thinking about the importance of letting go, and the importance of choice.
The denial of choice underpins almost all unhealthy behaviour. I do not have any seriously unhealthy habits, but some choices I deny are: when I’m busy I tell myself I “can’t” do the housework because I “haven’t got the energy”. My standards of housework are ok when I’m not too busy. I too often tell myself I “must” help someone who asks for something, and I tell myself I “can’t” be more socially outgoing because I “haven’t got the social confidence”. All of those are unhealthy behaviours where I deny choice. At one stage the giving one was seriously dysfunctional, but those days are over. Addictions, overeating, a lot of violence, and much consumerism, is based on denial of choice.
And western consumerism encourages us to deny choice. Selling addictive substances is an extremely lucrative business. If people see goods and services as a “need” then people will buy them. I’m sure the T.A.B. would like me to think I “need” to have a bet on November 6th. It is to the Booze Baron’s advantage if people think they “need” alcohol in order to enjoy themselves. I chose to do all my travelling on foot yesterday, but I bet the bus company would have liked it if I believed I needed to take the bus. And it was a very liberating feeling to know that I could choose to walk.
I have a friend who was raped in 1981, and she says she would like to see a world where there is “no abuse whatsoever” of women. I used to dismiss this ideal as being “ridiculously idealistic” But now I have my own value: I would like to see a world in which “everybody makes healthy choices”. I do not dismiss my friend’s idealism as being less valid than mine either. I simply acknowledge that Brenda and I have walked a different journey, therefore we have different aspirations.
And I don’t believe in making it “compulsory” to make healthy choices. Think of all the legislation in this country which says “you must do this, you must not do that”. These rules and regulations are broken all the time. Making good choices compulsory is not the answer. I call rules and regulations “the middleman”. You can choose to do good regardless of whether it’s compulsory or not. And furthermore making a behaviour “compulsory” is no guarantee that people will do it. Hence my desire for a world where everybody makes healthy choices.
My next point is that mental health comes before physical health and healthy relationships. Firstly, because in order to make healthy choices, we need a healthy belief system. Secondly, because people who are interested in their own health and well being are almost always interested in the health and well-being of others. Thus the vast majority of unhealthy relationships are eliminated.
And being able to make healthy choices is so liberating. I don’t need to bet every day of the week; I don’t need alcohol to enjoy myself, and I don’t need to get angry when people do things I don’t like. Rational concern is the answer.
So in summary, I think one of the most fundamental prerequisites for healthy individuals and a healthy society is to acknowledge choice. This leaves us free to do things which are conducive to our well being, and we are also largely free of unmet demands. Making “doing good”, however you choose to define it, compulsory is not the answer. Just imagine if everybody was healthy, simply because they chose to be.
by Michael Dunningham