The World Health Organization defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This comprehensive definition is consistent with the Old English meaning of wholeness.
On the other hand, ‘positive emotions’ are associated with a number of health benefits. Optimistic people have been shown to live 19% longer than pessimists. People with high levels of social involvement and social support demonstrate better wound healing, less susceptibility to colds, and shortened recovery times. A Stanford University study demonstrated a doubling of survival time for women with metastatic breast cancer in women involved in weekly support groups where they expressed their feelings about their illness and its effect on their lives.
The act of forgiveness, a mainstay of our spiritual tradition, been shown to be a powerful healing tool. People with high levels of forgiveness report lower levels of pain, anger, and psychological distress.
Releasing negative emotions in healthy ways is also beneficial. In one study, patients with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis were asked to write about the most stressful event of their lives. Four months later, the asthma patients showed improvements in lung function and the arthritis patients showed improvements in pain scores.
As eating well and regular exercise are rightly promoted as mainstays of preserving health and preventing future disuse, the value of emotional health must also be emphasized. Unlike many advanced chronic diseases, our emotional diseases are easily ‘cured.’ The first step in the process is to recognize and reflect on the problem, followed by seeking appropriate help.