Life is meaningless. And so is your health and wellbeing.
Does that statement surprise you? Put you on the defensive?
Let me explain …
Inherently, there is no meaning to life or the things that happens in it. There is no agreed-upon general meaning to anything, because meaning is provided by each one of us individually.
If you observe a person dropping a ball, that action may provoke no meaning for you or for the person dropping the ball. They may just be tossing a ball for fun and if they catch it or drop it, it doesn’t matter.
Yet, if someone drops a ball in a baseball game there is implied general meaning both to the players and the observers. Even so, if it’s the first inning of a game and a ball is hit and dropped, no one really cares. When that happens and the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth inning … that has huge meaning.
And if that’s the last game of a series, the ball drop has even greater positive meaning and greater negative meaning. For the teams and fans, and for some specific players, it could mean another year of frustration, a player being traded or retiring from the game.
So you see, there is no inherent meaning in anything. The meaning is put in by the stakeholders of that event.
What does this philosophical idea wrapped in a sports analogy have to do with health and wellbeing?
Well, a lot really. Because health and wellbeing are, like everything else, inherently meaningless to everyone but the stakeholder. So you need to take control of your own health, and not leave it up to a doctor or a hospital.
If you twist your ankle, the action itself is meaningless—again, except for the meaning you put into it. For your doctor, the twisted ankle means nothing other than another examination and treatment. For you, the twisted ankle could just be a simple inconvenience slowing down your yardwork.
Yet, if you are an athlete or someone looking to go on a hike of a lifetime in Europe, suddenly that twisted ankle means something and has consequences. It could be that you have to cancel your trip, lose money on prepaid travel expenses, miss out on meeting up with family members or long lost friends who decided on a reunion in the Alps. Suddenly, the twisted ankle has many meanings and layers of meaning that to somebody else has very little or no meaning whatsoever.
If you are in a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant and enjoying dinner and suddenly you discover there are chopped peanuts in the dish. The peanuts are inherently meaningless. If you have a peanut allergy, it’s not meaningless at all. Even a small dusting on a fork can lead to an immediate allergic reaction needing Epipen injection and an ER visit … or death. On a completely different side of the spectrum, if you love peanuts and you’re in heaven eating chicken satay it’s not meaningless either.
When we consider illness and ailments and health and wellbeing, we must also consider the meaninglessness of them. More importantly, however, we must consider their direct meaning in terms of their role in our personal lives and the lives of those closest to us. I guess the point I am trying to make is this:
No one cares more about your health and wellbeing than you do. To your healthcare provider your condition is a problem to be solved or managed and nothing more. There is no meaning in your illness to a healthcare provider other than the meaning they put into it, which could just be yet another opportunity to practice their healing art. Yet for you, the meaning can be vastly different, having life-changing implications.
The reason many people are chronically ill or in chronic pain is because they don’t realize that their health issues are meaningless to their doctors; yet they expect their doctors to “own” their problems and correct them.
Moreover, the person suffering chronic conditions may also not fully realize the full meaning their ill health does and can potentially play in their life and longevity… and especially in the quality of life and sense of wellbeing of them and those closest to them. And so in both cases the meaning of the health event is neither fully appreciated nor controlled for.
I may sound preachy here, but I am writing this for me, too. I also have suffered many decades of chronic pain. I overcame it for a good period of time and then somehow woke up one day to realize I have gained some weight, am in a little more pain than I should be, and my quality of life has diminished a bit because my range of motion has decreased. And yet, until I woke up and realized what was happening and then thought about how it was and would affect my overall life (i.e. the consequences of the meaning of my declining wellness state), the tight shoulder, loosening of the belt, rubbing of my neck suddenly have life-changing meaning. I needed to make a change, and quickly for old habits die hard and inertia is difficult to overcome.
Most types and causes of pain and ill health are preventable and stoppable by making changes to our lifestyles. We have it within our willpower to make changes that will prevent ill health and restore balance within a reasonable amount. We need to do this because our personal pains, illnesses and diseases are meaningless to those in whom we seek medical help. Yet for us, there is great meaning. And if we really think about it and project our life forward, we can find that the meaning we put into our pain and illnesses can change our lives for the worse and rob us of our sense of wellbeing through a slow and steady diminishing of our quality of life.
Please consider your wellness condition and what meaning each part of that puzzle has and can have for you. Then consider how things could be different—better—if you were to take more control of your wellness and then created a better state of wellbeing overall.