Vitality and its Natural Enemies

The title of this post is a play on the title of one of Ivan Illich’s books – “The Right to Useful Unemployment and its Professional Enemies” – an essay I recommend highly. 


Earlier we explored a promising pathway toward vitality, to feeling more alive and exuberant. Here I wish to recognize common mindsets and behaviors that dampen our lived experience and cause us to feel less alive. Some of these “natural enemies” of vitality have been around forever, others have more recently entered the stream of our existence.  Each in its own way drains us of gratifying energy:

  • Being overwhelmed with negative stress – as opposed to “positive stress” or “eustress”, or even that “not so positive stress” that we can manage and recover from quickly. Truly negative stress is the kind we feel is isolating, uncontrollable, and meaningless. This one’s been around for a long time, though the people who research stress say that negative stress levels are on the rise. 
  • Counting while engaged in otherwise pleasurable activities – here I’m talking about counting the number of steps we take – thanks, Fitbit! – and how many calories we ingest – much obliged, MyFitnessPal! This counting fiasco strips two innately human and often enjoyable activities – walking and eating – of their savoriness and reduces them to numbers and graphs.
  • Staying indoors for too long – how are we to make full use of our animal senses or to connect with something larger and more encompassing than ourselves or to acquire enough Vitamin D or beneficial negative ions if we stay inside all the time? Nature enriches and vitalizes our lives.
  • Spending too much time staring at screens – I don’t know about you, but even after 20 minutes staring at a computer, iPad, iPhone, I feel drained. And evidently I’m not the only one.
  • Do things the same way every time – it’s always good to develop positive habits – biking to work, eating nutrient-rich foods, setting a consistent sleep schedule – yet we can easily become robots if we fail to add variety to our daily activity. To boost vitality, it’s good to switch up our routines from time to time.
  • Thinking about everything but the here and now – this refers to constantly worrying about past events or obsessing about the future. Life unfolds in the present.  Vital people are mindful people.
  • Over consuming – otherwise known as materialism or consumerism. Concerning ourselves with having the latest in fashion, hairstyle, car, idevice, etc., lends us to be less happy, sick more often, and less likely to help others. Materialism is antithetical to vitality.
  • Being physically inactive – Sedentary lifestyles not only affect our physical health, putting us at greater risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and cancer, they zap us of our vital energy.  Something as simple as walking during lunch breaks can rev up our positive energy levels.
  • Being inauthentic – it’s tiring  to act like someone besides our true selves.  Showing people who we really are and what we really enjoy and value boosts our vitality. Together, being authentic and feeling vital guide us toward leading meaningful lives.
  • Being cynical and judgmental – both cynicism and judgmental involve prejudice, anger and hostility, often toward other people. Not only do these negative mindsets diminish relationships with others, they can lead to heart problems and stroke. Any and all of the consequences of acting cynically and judgmentally suppress our vitality.

I’m as guilty as the next person to succumbing to each of these deadening mindsets and behaviors. The challenge is to steer away from them and head in more vitalizing directions. For example, you can imagine how savoring an evening walk instead of focusing on getting in 10,000 steps can enhance your vitality. You can also see that attuning to what’s happening in the moment does more to invigorate your positive energy than thinking about where else you’d rather be.

And in this moment, I say “to your health and vitality!”

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