Today is National World Health Day!
At first, it seems obvious what this day is all about- promoting health. But health is not a simple concept when you examine it more closely. So, what is health?
Most of us automatically think of a healthy person as someone who is free of disease. However, this is a narrow definition that does not take into consideration other mental, social, or environmental factors that can impact the quality of a person’s life. According to the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Because health is a subjective state of well-being and not an objectively classifiable disease-free state, health can actually differ radically from person to person. Perhaps even stranger to consider is the fact that what is considered “healthy” or “diseased” is not consistent across cultures, in fact, both of these terms represent socially constructed concepts.
For example, in Anne Fadiman’s novel The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, she follows the true story of Lia Lee, the young daughter of Hmong immigrants who suffers from what Western society calls epilepsy. However, to her family and others in their culture, Lia’s condition is not a disease but is a mark of spiritual distinction. The struggles that subsequently ensue between Lia’s Western doctors and her family is a lesson in the importance of communication and cultural understanding when different definitions of health and illness clash.
So, since there is no set definition for what it means to be healthy, celebrate National World Health Day this year by defining what being healthy means to you, then try talking to your friends or family about their definitions of health and see how they compare!
Feel free to share your thoughts about health in the comments below.