Dear Colleagues and Students:
As we look forward to our graduation ceremonies next week, a familiar mix of emotions present themselves. I’m so proud of our graduates and find their bright-eyed optimism infectious. Most are giddy with eagerness to take their diplomas and put their new hard-earned skills to work, saving lives for a living. Helping others doesn’t just make us happy and fulfilled – it gives our careers purpose and promotes well-being.
Last month in JAMA, Dr. Howard Koh and colleagues from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, published a Viewpoint piece on this subject that I think is a must-read, especially at this time of the year. Dr. Koh is a former US Assistant Secretary of Health, a friend and colleague and was our GPH graduation speaker three years ago. In this opinion piece, Reimagining Health – Flourishing, the authors note that “a patient cares not only about physical health and test results “within normal limits” but also more broadly about being happy, having meaning and purpose, being “a good person,” and having fulfilling relationships.”
Illuminating these concepts further, the United Nations’ World Happiness and the Gallup Global Emotions reports were recently released. The report reflects the views of over 140 nation’s citizens. In the U.S., they found that “even as their economy roared, more Americans were stressed, angry and worried last year than they have been at most points during the past decade. Asked about their feelings the previous day, the majority of Americans (55%) in 2018 said they had experienced stress during a lot of the day, nearly half (45%) said they felt worried a lot and more than one in five (22%) said they felt anger a lot.” (Gallup) As philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said nearly 270 years ago, “money can buy material things, but real happiness must be truly earned.”
For those of us in higher education, we are witnessing the effects of this on campuses from coast to coast as mental health issues take on greater importance and the need to support our student’s well-being increases. (Higher Education Today).
One way to do this is – as Dr. Koh proposes – is to evolve the way we define health and measure life satisfaction to place greater emphasis on meaning, purpose, happiness and resilience – not simply good physical health but the capacity to flourish. I agree that our policy makers must follow the leads of those in Bhutan, Israel, Italy, Thailand and the United Kingdom and begin to put greater emphasis on well-being.
The Dalai Lama has said “our prime purpose in life is to help others,” and I have often underscored to our faculty, staff and students that public health is more than a career -- it’s a calling. As we send our graduates off into the world next Monday to begin or continue their important work in this field, I’m so grateful they answered this call at a time that needs their powerful sense of purpose now more than ever.
Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH
Sidebar: Take the Global Emotions Survey:
Gallup's Positive Experience Index questions are:
- • Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
- • Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
- • Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
- • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about enjoyment?
Gallup's Negative Experience Index questions are:
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about physical pain?
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about worry?
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about sadness?
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about stress?
- • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about anger?