They say no person is an island, and this is certainly true in the area of personal health. Because when one of us is suffering, all those around us suffer. And when any of us makes a healthy change for the better, those around us typically benefit, too. Sometimes subtly, sometimes profoundly.
It may be that a family member ends up eating more fresh foods because of a change we’ve made in our shopping and cooking habits; or our friends wind up getting more exercise because we invite them to join us in our active pursuits. It may also be that someone near us simply observes the positive changes we’ve made, finds them inspiring, and decides to emulate them for him or herself.
But it doesn’t stop there: As we begin to enjoy more energy, vitality and equanimity, we tend to become more helpful and generous to those around us. As we feel less needy ourselves, we become more adept at recognizing and responding to the real needs of others. We have more to offer our community, and more inspiration and inclination to tackle big challenges we’d otherwise choose to ignore.
It’s wonderful that all these good things can happen — almost by accident — as a result of our taking responsibility for bettering our own bodies and our own little worlds. But what happens when we widen our focus and think about even broader domains of influence — our opportunities to contribute to large-scale positive change?
I think that depends on how much vitality and clarity of purpose we have available at a given time.
There’s no question that the more positive physical and emotional energy we enjoy, and the more authentic care and compassion we cultivate, the more wherewithal we have for investing beyond our own immediate needs — whether that means serving a local charity or making a stand for a social, political or environmental issue of global significance.
It’s also true that recognizing a greater purpose in your desire for personal well-being — from wanting to set a good example for your children to wanting to be an instrument of positive change in the world around you — can infuse your personal commitment to well-being with an extraordinary level of intrinsic motivation. That’s the kind of values-driven motivation that makes healthy choices easier, more satisfying and more sustainable over time.
But no matter how grand your goals and vision, remember this:
Sustaining the energy for community- and world-bettering pursuits requires that you continue to nourish and care for yourself. Because if your appetite for serving everyone else exceeds your willingness to replenish your own stores of energy and joy, you risk burning out before you’ve accomplished much. You also risk becoming resentful and disgruntled in the process, and that sort of contraction doesn’t help anyone.
Amid all our other affiliations and obligations, each of us is first and foremost a citizen of the earth. And so on some level, our deepest responsibility (and privilege) lies in making ourselves of service — even in some small way — within this realm. But if contemplating that big picture overwhelms you, or if you’re currently so drained that you feel you have nothing to share, it may be that you need to focus your “get healthy” energy a little closer to home for right now.
Start by examining the state of your own choices, attitudes and behaviors — because if those aren’t coming from a place of awareness and abundance, any positive influence you can have on others will be blunted at best. Begin by making some healthy changes in your own life, then strive to become a positive influence on those closest to you. (This issue of Experience Life is full of great suggestions about where to begin.)
The great news is this: As your energy, capacity and vision grow, the benefits of your contributions will begin expanding in ever-wider concentric rings. Before long, they’ll begin washing up onto the shores of not just your family and friends, but also your social and civic networks, and the world we all share. And if that’s not reason enough to take good care of yourself and your loved ones, I can’t imagine what is.