Do people want to be healthy?

A recent discussion with a respected colleague brought this, “Do people want to be healthy?”, question to mind. We then realized it was a complicated question. Of course people do not want to be sick, mainly because it means they cannot accomplish anything they desire, but this doesn’t mean they want to be healthy. Health is not an end goal, as the World Health Organization and most acknowledge, health is an enabling resource, not an end result.

From an employer perspective it seems pretty clear. Of course they want healthy employees, but not for health reasons, they desire healthy employees because they want dedicated, passionate, creative, and productive employees. Without health, none of those outcomes are likely. Health makes desired goals possible, but it does not achieve those goals. Health is the latent or hidden, underlying construct of all we want in life. Without health, very little is possible.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Peoples conscious actions also seem to suggest they do not want health – or at least health is not what they prioritize. People will stay up late, eat unhealthy foods, skip exercise, or resort to other substances they know are not health enhancing to accomplish other goals. Even so, people will almost always say their health is important and they want to be healthy. Why then do our actions and the goal of health not match? Could the prioritization of other things be why people often give up their goals shortly after New Years?

According to Dr. Wendy Wood’s convincing scientific work, much of this can be explained by habits. As she explains, habits are what people do when they are not thinking, so they are not conscious actions. As most of us know, intentions help us feel good but don’t allow much to be accomplished.

She outlines these important findings in her work and in her book, Good Habits, Bad Habits. As she documents, habits are the actions we take when not thinking. Therefore when we are rushed late or thinking of other things, we resort to our usual, not desired or intended behaviors.

Hardcover Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick Book
by Wendy Wood, PhD ©2019

How Can Health Be a Priority?

For health to be a priority, we probably should focus on what people want to achieve more so than health. Most people want to thrive. Does that mean we should focus on thriving? Probably not, thriving cannot be achieved directly, it is the result of meaningful work, fulfilling relationships, meaning, belonging, purpose and much more. The focus therefore, to achieve thriving, has to be on generating meaningful work, building stronger relationships, finding common purpose, and contributing to meaningful goals.

Health, therefore, is not achieved directly, it is the by-product of a good life. Wait, isn’t that backward? It is like Shawn Achor explains in the THE HAPPINESS ADVANTAGE: THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY THAT FUEL SUCCESS AND PERFORMANCE AT WORK. I also recommend you watch Achor’s wonderful 10 minute TED Presentation: “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance

Maybe this means Obliquity is how we get health. Obliquity suggests complex goals, such as health, are best achieved indirectly. In other words, indirect methods provide a better chance for health and also for reaching achieving what is desired.

Quality Management

Quality management endorses similar ideas. They note you cannot create quality with inspection at the end, quality must be created by continually by improving the processes. Inspection can’t create quality anymore then scales manage our weights or checkups produce health. Desired outcomes must be caused to happen through processes that lead to the precursors of those desired outcomes.

As noted previously, James Clear supports this idea when he explains…

“Friendship happens on the way to something else If you “try to meet new people” it feels weird and forced. The more you aim for friendship, the more it eludes you. But if you aim to learn or achieve something with others, friendship happens naturally during the shared pursuit.”

James Clear 9-9-2021 Newsletter

Also Archbishop Tutu described getting joy in this way…

“… if you set out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really, because of other people.”

Archbishop Tutu in “The Book of Joy”

The idea of Paneugenesis, or the generation of comprehensive improvements by creating net-positive, pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits may be an effective way to get what we desire as it also produces benefits for others and our environment. Please share your thoughts….


Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!


Please share your thoughts and questions below.
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