INTRODUCTION: REAL WELLNESS
The R-E-A-L in REAL wellness signals the foundational elements of four quality of life enhancing skill sets, namely, reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. I have written dozens of essays and two books explaining REAL wellness concepts, principles, strategies and tips. I'm occasionally asked, "how do they rank," that is, which are the most important? The answer is always the same: "It depends."
It depends on whether and to what extent one or more of the four dimensions are neglected.
Let's look at how Americans seem to be neglecting all four REAL wellness elements.
A little more than 47 million people cast their ballots for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election (Obama got a little more than 51 million.) More than half the country consists of "red" or Republican) states, so obviously there is a huge need for more exuberance. To favor Romney over Obama, Republican policies over the Democratic alternative, however disappointing the latter might seem to many progressives, reflects a population seriously deficient in joyful spirits, humor, optimism and most of the upbeat qualities associated with exuberant living.
Two thirds of adult Americans are obese or overweight and chronic diseases causally linked with poor diets suggests athleticism is even more neglected than exuberance. The importance of athleticism, which includes exercise and sound nutrition, and the depth to which both areas are neglected in America is obvious to everyone. No elaboration is needed—let's move on to liberty.
How can there be liberty, which encompasses self-determination and freedom from the shackles of dependency, helplessness, fear and intimidation, when belief in and fear of an omnipotent god is a reality for about three-fourths of the population? The predominant religion in this nation promotes belief in and devotion to a god who is all-knowing and all-powerful—a tyrant, basically. He/she/it has a divine plan for everything, according to the faith-based population. You are a very important part of this plan. The god who rules for most Americans is willing and able to punish slackers with eternal hell fires. Think of it—ever-lasting torture that renders waterboarding attractive by comparison.
So add liberty as a great need for Americans, even more so than athleticism. This might upset red-blooded patriotic Yanks—aren't we the people who dwell in the land of the brave and home of the free. Not really. Certainly not when a galaxy-sized supergod is thought to rule in a tower of power over not just the land but the planet itself, our solar system and everything else out there, expanding and expanding. Under God, of course.
Reason is always in season. While the answer to the question "what is THE most important of the four REAL wellness foundational elements" must always be "it depends," more often than not it will prove to be reason.
Reason is about critical thinking. It is a skill founded on respect for evidence, the natural world, science and an open-minded default setting of skeptical inquiry.
Robert Benchley (1889-1945) said there are two kinds of people in the world: "Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't." He might also have suggested another duality—those who employ reason and those who don't. Insofar as reason is concerned, I suspect there are actually three kinds of people in the world.
THREE KINDS OF PEOPLE
One kind constitutes a very small percentage. Call this group the well. They are the fortunate folks who, owing to their DNA, cultures, supportive environments, random chance and to a degree their own devices, manage satisfying lives. These people should be tracked and studied longitudinally. Data bases should be built around their habits and formative influences. Autopsies should be done when they've finished. Afterwards, they could be reassembled, pickled and displayed in respectful, complimentary ways as examples for the living. Perhaps science could gain insights from these paragons of REAL wellness that could benefit humanity. Unfortunately, studies of populations over time are focused mainly on deviancy, not positive role models.
A second kind of person exists at the other extreme—the mentally unbalanced. These people, through no fault of their own, are mentally unwell. Genetically and/or otherwise, this group is afflicted with bad chemicals; their minds are out of balance. Most suffer quietly and get less help than they desperately need. On occasions, a rare few strike out, doing awful things to themselves and others. When, as in America, guns are readily available, ghastly tragedies happen. As Australian polymath Grant Donovan observed after the December 14 slaughter in a Connecticut grade school, "... given the extent of mental frailty we can expect more over-the cliff behavior. Some people have it hard when it comes to the random distribution of genes."
The CBS network newscast on 12/17/12 stated that one in 17 adults has mental health problems, yet only a third get any mental health services. It is much easier to get an assault rifle than to get care for a mental health problem.
The third group includes most of us. I'm pessimistic about them, too, but I think these people can be helped. They should be the focus for and beneficiaries of REAL wellness, properly taught by knowledgeable educators. This is the group of people who, almost as often as not act, think and act irrationally, believe crazy things and live self-destructive lives. This is the population that has made mediocrity the norm. They are, in fact, the segment that can most benefit from positive reason-based education and skill-building.
It would be wonderful if REAL wellness held the promise to benefit all three groups, but I don't believe that's the case: the first group has less need for such ministrations and attentions because they already embrace and manifest reason as part of their REAL wellness lifestyles. The second group's needs of a remedial or custodial nature are urgent but of a medical and/or custodial nature. REAL wellness is not the remedy for the mentally ill who most need care, including protection from themselves and supervision, the latter to keep us safe while they're being helped. The relatively few within the second group who are dangerous require a societal full-court press. Unfortunately, even 24 hours a day assistance which does not exist at present offers limited hopes of even modest successes.
The best strategy, is seems, is REAL wellness for the masses (the third group) to boost all four REAL wellness skills and prevent future increases in the size of the second group while adding to the ranks of those in the first group.
Good luck, everyone.