For many of us, the year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic created stress levels that were normally associated with living in conflict zones or with the immediate consequences of conflict. In addition to the external stress that the pandemic created there is now new medical research that shows that in some patients the coronavirus can actually affect the brain.
As some societies moved from lockdown to reopening, the nature of our anxiety changed, but the stress remained. Week after week of stress has led to feelings of burnout and despair, coupled with feelings of guilt at not doing anything properly.
For working parents and caregivers there was also the added complexity of trying to manage working from home with emotional and academic support for children and longer-term concerns about the impact of school shutdowns and learning loss on our children’s future. The number of op-ed pieces with titles like “has the economy declared working parents inessential?” seemed to be proliferating. Working mothers in many countries felt they were being pushed out of the economy.
Finally, there is the growing evidence of how different reactions revealed fault lines of inequality — the wealthy and powerful are fine, the less well off, those with additional learning or health needs are hardest hit.
At the same time, we live in an age of major disruption, and that’s a good thing. Healthcare is undergoing a massive transformation, and for a very good reason. Doctors spend $210 billion per year on procedures that aren’t based on patient need, but fear of liability. Americans spend, on average, $8,915 per person on healthcare — more than any other country on the planet. Prescription drugs cost around 50% more in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries. And at this rate, by 2025, nearly a quarter of the U.S. GDP will be spent on healthcare.
As you can see, healthcare is massively broken and entrepreneurs are finding new ways every day to make you the CEO of your own health. We are on the cusp of witnessing the biggest breakthroughs humanity has ever seen. And everyone is in on it.
In 2015, at the United Nations annual General Assembly meetings, the world’s nations adopted a new set of goals for humanity, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the nations’ political leaders were not the only stakeholders — businesses, philanthropic institutions, media personalities, international NGOs, and a coalition of very diverse constituents vowed to pitch in to make it all happen. Goal 3 of the plan aims to improve health systems, health research, and health financing.
But there is more to health than the absence of disease. Some call it happiness. Others call it wellbeing. And others call it quality of life. And we all agree: this is not some elusive concept; it directly affects our performance at work.
So, we fundamentally agree: everyone wants to be happy. But what we have not figured out yet is how we should do it with policy, education, and community investment. When the discussion goes there, the question becomes: who will pay for all this innovation? My guess: probably not the consumer. Most likely it will be the insurance company, which makes a lot more money when we stay out of the hospital and live longer — so they can collect more fees and pay out less.
But beyond the innovation, the future of health and wellbeing discussion centers on our elevated sense of purpose in life. Psychologist have found that people who have this tend to live longer and experience less physical infirmity. This also resonates with a trend called “primordial prevention.” While our healthcare has focused thus far on primary prevention — intervening before a disease is developed — or secondary prevention — trying to prevent progression of a disease when people are already sick — primordial prevention looks at prevention of the risk factors in the first place. And the best place to start is figuring out what allows people to attain and maintain physical and mental health in the long term. This is where wellbeing and happiness become the factor modern healthcare should begin with.
The essays compiled in this anthology reflect learnings from our key contributors as well as key takeaways from previous editions of the Wellbeing Forum. We hope you find them useful and will reach out to us if you wish to contribute to a future edition. Thank you for being a part of this year’s Wellbeing Forum. We look forward to learning and creating together.