IHP news #462 (March 23, 2018)

Wellbeing in the 21st century

By on March 23, 2018


Dear Colleagues,


Not sure you all noticed but this week the International Day of Happiness  was celebrated, a day before Spring officially started in the North. Over the past few days, we came across a number of relevant reads,  learning ever more about happiness and wellbeing. That’s always a nice pastime, you’ll say, but in the interconnected SDG & planetary health era it’s even more important than before, as a global challenge for 7.3 billion people and counting. This year’s World Happiness Report, published last week already provided some insight, with the usual accompanying analyses why Scandinavian countries such as Finland  and Denmark do so well. Readers of this newsletter probably have an idea. It ain’t the weather. Other voices emphasize the urgent need for “wellbeing economies”; chances are it’ll indeed be either ‘wellbeing’ or ‘no-being’ by the end of the 21st century. Speaking of ‘no-being’, the deeper (and darker) personalities among you who reckon wellbeing is for wussies can perhaps try meditation  to find out the meaning and purpose in life,  while connecting with deeper existential awareness. Trust me: it’ll be better for your soul than checking your Twitter feed every other hour. Nevertheless, on Twitter we wholeheartedly agreed with the slogan “A gender equal world is a happy world”. Can’t be worse than it is now.  Still think also that good old-fashioned sleep remains vastly underrated in global health & wellbeing circles. As a “bold innovative” NCD prevention idea, we should all advocate for an extra day of sleep a week. Can even be organized in the office for the workaholics, in total harmony with a “No Coffee/Enter Paracetamol” day.

Over to the messy world in which we live, then. In Almaty later this year, the Alma Ata Declaration will normally get an update “for a new era” . Health for All 8.0 (including PHC 37.0) if you want. And what a fine new era it is! The new times are characterized by a “pivot to authoritarianism by governments and to cynicism by citizens”, and by an increasing number of interconnected shocks, instability & vulnerabilities on which (more than anyone else) ruthless politicians seem bound to thrive, as is already the case in many countries. It’s mostly men, unfortunately – for the ones among you who want to be ruled by authoritarian women, you can find them in some rather specific settings, we’ve been told.  In any case, the rather dull technocrats and philantro-capitalists who dominated much of the MDG era increasingly feel like relics of a bygone era, even if the latter don’t fully realize it yet, still hopping and “global envoy’-ing” from high-level/trillion dollar forum to forum. In this brave new era, “surveillance capitalism  is also fast becoming a buzzword. Entire ‘targeted advertising’ business models have been built on the idea that they (i.e. the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibaba…) know what will make you “happy”. Including when it comes to your political preferences. Americans certainly look over the moon now. But Zuckerberg said he’s ‘happy’ to testify before Congress, that should help.

Still in America, last week Richard Horton argued in the ‘Great Equity debate’ in New York that liberty (i.e. enhanced agency) should precede equity, as the defining objective of global health in the 21st century.  I’m afraid Horton and his opponent, Cheryl Healton (in favour of equity), both got it wrong, or at least need to be complemented. Whether we like it or not, some moderation & rationing, in line with planetary boundaries, will need to come first, if not soon there won’t be a world at all anymore to ‘leave behind’ for future generations. The fact that even many in the global health community still don’t practice what  they preach in this respect, shows that this is, by far, the hardest global/planetary health challenge. We are, as a species, downright pathetic at moderation & rationing, and capitalism ruthlessly exploits that collective weakness. Most, if not all, human beings want more, whether it’s more power, more influence, a bigger network, new experiences, a new love, more abstracts accepted for symposia, more funding for our pet projects, … We all want something (more). In fact, if you don’t want more anymore, you’re probably ready to die.  Rationing & moderation are just not in our DNA, and three decades of neoliberal globalization didn’t really help. Some prefer to call it ‘growing’ instead of wanting ever more or claim they all do it with a view on ‘changing the world for the better’. You wish. Even authoritarian leaders get this. So far Xi Jinping hasn’t exactly been telling his compatriots that the ‘Chinese dream’ – sadly-  includes flying less, for example. And why should he, as long as we – in the West – don’t even change our ways after decades of flying to “wherever we want to lay our heads”?

Put differently, what do you think Horton, Bloomberg and Kickbusch’s level of wellbeing would be if they had to make their grand planetary health/green economy/cosmopolitan cases only in (respectively) London/New York/ Geneva, for the years and decades to come? Via fancy Youtube videos only?

I reckon they’d need a LOT of coffee to get through the day : )


Enjoy your reading.

The editorial team



(you find the pdf of the newsletter here: IHPn462 )

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