New. Quick. Easy. Painless.
These are words that marketers use readily to get our attention. They know that we humans are attracted to ideas, services, and products that make life feel less challenging. We all like the idea of an "Easy" button. Evolutionary biologists say that this preference is hard-wired into our species, and that it serves as a way of preserving energy so that we can focus on protecting ourselves and raising our children.
The trouble with this human preference is that not everything that is easy is good for us. Among other things, our quest for ease is helping us to engineer activity, food preparation, and face-to-face communication out of our lives and our culture. The consequences to our well-being, of course, are profound. The U.S. epidemic of chronic preventable diseases is just one example.
Our current challenges didn't occur in isolation and they won't be resolved in isolation either. We are social creatures, inextricably linked to one another. For better or worse, our choices and sense of well-being are impacted by those around us - our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.
The good news is, we are not helpless in this challenge. Cultural contexts are constantly evolving, and we help shape them. Once we become aware of patterns that don't align with our values, we don't have to "go with the flow". We can use our choices to help change our context - and help inspire others to do the same.
Gandhi famously said: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Here are five ways you can contribute to a healthier world, right where you are:
- Share Information -Information and resources about health and well-being are constantly being updated, but many people don't get the news or know how to apply it. Did you know that it can take up to two decades for new health research findings to be integrated into clinical practice? It is so easy to share information now. You can help to spread the word and help speed up the process of healthy change.
- Question Assumptions - Often our choices within families, social, and work groups persist because "that is the way we've always done it". When you notice habits that are working against you or the people around you, don't be afraid to ask questions! Be the one to encourage curiosity about why unhealthy patterns persist and support innovative alternatives.
- Be a Trendsetter - We often make decisions in groups based on what those around us are doing. You don't have to wait for others to set the trend. If you have an opportunity to model a healthy choice - in a restaurant, for example - try to do it early so that others can have the chance to follow your example. As Maya Angelou said: Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
- Ask for What you Need - As you seek to make healthy choices, you may find that the context around you doesn't make it easy. Please make your needs known. People are often eager to be helpful, and your communication raises their awareness about how to do so. Being courageous enough to ask also makes space for others around you to do the same.
- Advocate for Others - As you tune in to what kinds of situations are most supportive to health and well-being, you may become aware of others with needs that are not being met. When you have the opportunity, stand up for them and help them get what they need. Supporting one another builds trust and solidarity. Together you can do so much more!
What about you? How are people helping create healthier communities where you are? Please share your experiences in the comments below!