Measuring well-being – why is Britain’s ranking lower than it should be?

benefitshealthcare-370x229What does ‘well-being’ mean to you? How would you measure it? Can we even try? Well, a study, called the ‘2014 Country Well-being Rankings Report’, has been carried out by researchers at Gallup and Healthways, (a US natural foods chain) which brings together more than 146,000 surveys in 145 countries in an attempt to do just that – create an index whereby we can measure a country’s well-being and rank them against each other. Here in Britain we didn’t do nearly as well as might be expected.

One particular category that dragged our overall score down is called ‘social’, which measures how supportive and loving our relationships are, but we were also less positive than many poorer countries, particularly in the Americas. We were also only 67th when it comes to physical well-being. This is a little disturbing, not least because we know that those in supportive relationships are less stressed, feel more respected and are more likely to be willing to help others.

Perhaps it is not surprising that in a country so dependent on financial services we scored best in the ‘financial’ category – how we manage our finances to reduce stress in our life – but even then we only came 20th.

Panama was, for the second consecutive year, top of the well-being league followed by Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, Belize, Chile, Denmark, Guatemala, Austria and Mexico.The five countries with the lowest levels of well-being are Tunisia, Togo, Cameroon, Bhutan and Afghanistan.

What do statistics like this indicate about the society we live in? It certainly suggests that it is not financial affluence that makes us happiest. Supportive networks in close communities, extended families living nearby and a willingness to engage and work with others to create an overall sense of well-being override material possessions. Whilst we are encouraged to want more and more; to work harder and harder to buy technology that seems to take us further from physical interaction with those we love, we are losing sight of those things that nurture us mentally and physically.

Statistics can’t always be relied upon to tell us the truth of a given situation, but surely this is one of those occasions when data is sending us a message we would do well to take notice of?

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Diet, health and well-being – it isn’t all about the nanny state….

3d61aa7a6c15e14210176777221f0045It is so easy to feel confused by all the health information in the press. Have you become almost blind to all the warnings or recommendations about what we should or shouldn’t eat, and the effect certain foods have on our health? Why, despite all the advice, and the threats, does Britain continue growing ever more overweight? Is it because we don’t like being ‘told’ to limit our intake by the government or NHS? Is it the pressure of advertising and the availability of so much choice?

We aren’t pious or sanctimonious about food here at The Terrace, but we do like to promote a healthy lifestyle that considers both mind and body – what we eat can affect our mood as well as our weight. To deprive ourselves of certain nutrients is as bad as over indulging in others (for example, there is some evidence that the B vitamins and magnesium have been shown to support our mental health) and we know that getting the balance between diet and exercise can seem like a nightmare. But it is so important to our overall well-being to find something that suits us, and ensures we don’t carry on until our physical health deteriorates and our lives are shortened.

b8422f4b-e7ef-4646-965c-25417b36ae87-620x372Sadly, the news today highlighted what can happen when we take things to extremes. Britain’s heaviest man, Carl Thompson, has died aged just 33. He weighed 65 stone and had been housebound for more than a year. It took a small crane and all the emergency services to remove his body from his flat, where he was cared for by visiting NHS carers. He has already had five heart attacks, and had been told he needed to lose 45 stone or die. He had cut down on his 10,000 calorie a day intake but was still existing on takeaways to the last. Reports told of how he had developed a difficult relationship with food from the age of three, when he used to raid kitchen cupboards, but no one had been able to find the root cause of what was, of course, a serious eating disorder.

Now we would not suggest our favourite recipe for delicious nettle soup or tabbouleh salad, or any other healthy eating plan should have been forced upon Carl. At some point he lost control of his eating and despite being increasingly disabled by his weight he could not stop. It is desperately sad, and we have to hope he got all the support available.  However, for most of us it is not too late to gradually change the way we think about food. Therapy can help, as can the support of peers who experience the same issues. A major breakthrough can take place when someone notices how their diet can affect their mood. The mental health charity Mind has a wonderful page that goes into diet and mood in a very accessible way, as does the Mental Health Foundation. They offer recipes, talk about  about eating the right fats (not no fat), drinking plenty of water and ensuring you take in protein as well as your five a day. Do take a look and see what we mean. No fuss, no ticking off and no draconian measures required.

If you do want to see  the sort of recipes we enjoy eating, with the ingredients we know can lift mood and aid digestion, take a look at our Pinterest page devoted to healthy foods. You don’t have to go all out for vegetarian foods, or drop things you enjoy completely but there is a world of delicious stuff out there many of us know little about. It may feel annoying to be told what to eat by the government, or doctors; but seeing Carl, and the horrors of his weight gain, isn’t it worth biting your lip and just taking those first few steps to get out of a cycle that can affect both mind and body?

More poetry for mindfulness – Beannacht by John O’Donohue

mindful-big-new-newOn this blog we have often highlighted the importance of mindfulness as a means to really engage with the world around us and to live in the moment – this moment. Mindfulness is becoming ever more ‘mainstream’ and it now regularly appears in the media, becoming something of a new ‘buzzword’ to support our mental health (as other terms, such as CBT have in the past). Here at The Terrace we have always recognised that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to our emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness is a practice that many find beneficial, but that doesn’t mean it is a panacea for all the ills in society. It requires practice and discipline, and for many of us with busy lives it can seem difficult to take the necessary time and space to really benefit.

But sometimes we can simply be in the moment, for  – literally- a few moments. Hearing a familiar piece of music, the smell of new cut grass, or bread in the oven, looking at a fabulous view; all these offer us the time to catch our breath and become as one with ourselves and the world.

John O'Donohue

John O’Donohue

Previously we have offered poetry by Wendell Berry, Pablo Neruda, William Stafford, John Keats and Mary Oliver as a way to reflect for a moment on what makes us happy and what is really important in the lives we lead. Today, we highlight the work of Irish poet John O’Donohue. Also a philosopher, priest, environmental activist and proponent of Celtic spirituality, he died, at just 52, in 2008. Some words of his particularly struck us:

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

This is surely a thought that should be with us at the start of every day?

The following poem by O’Donohue is indeed a blessing and at times of stress and anxiety offers an opportunity to meditate and calm the mind. We would love to know what you think, and how the words affect you….

Beannacht
(Gaelic for “Blessing”)

by John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

And when the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Miranda Bevis is offering more mindfulness courses at The Terrace in the autumn. See our website for more details.