How money can buy happiness – Part 2, Health

They say wealth don’t buy health, but I don’t see many rich people dying from malaria

Health. The great equaliser. If you have your health you have everything, and if you don’t, no amount of money will matter. Yet, money matters for your health. Money doesn’t guarantee health, but a lack of money has a strong co-relation with poor health. In other words money isn’t a requirement to be healthy, but today it is a great enabler. Even in industrialised nations with universal health care, having more money improves your health, on average. Obesity, and the diabetes, joint problems and heart disease that comes with it, is far more common among the working class and the unemployed than among the middle and upper class.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and thus not qualified to give medical advice. I’m giving you INVESTMENT advice (which requires no qualifications whatsoever), on how you can spend money to become happier. Some of those things involve improving your health. As always, consult with your doctor before you do anything that might get you killed.

Seriously, I don’t want to lose any readers! 🙂

Health effects everything

Health is a major enabler for happiness. It effects both your ability to take part in things that makes you happy, and your ability to enjoy those things. Constant pain or lack of energy can turn an otherwise enjoyable activity into a chore: if you don’t believe me, try eating your favourite food, cooked to perfection, while suffering from a bad case of acid reflux. Further, many activities that are close to torture if you’re in poor health are only minor inconveniences if you’re in good health. Walking up a long flight of stairs is never going to be fun, but it gets a lot less annoying if you’re not short of breath from chain smoking. Finally, remember how in Part 1 I wrote you couldn’t easily get more hours out of the day? Investing in your health is one way you can, because smart health investments will give you more energy, make you sleep better, and thus get more productive hours in a day! And you’re likely to live longer as well. “Ok Sam”, you say. “We know health is great, get to the spending part!”

How to invest in your health

#1. Eat food, not shit. If you work in an office in a industrialised country, what you eat is likely the biggest factor for your health. Making significant changes through exercise is a major commitment, but you can significantly improve your health without doing anything simply by not eating too much shit. But healthy eating can be confusing:  Can you put butter in your coffee if you avoid gluten? Are eggs good or bad for you this week? Is eating cute animals better for your health than ugly animals? Should you only drink the kind of beer cavemen drank? Luckily, by investing some money you can get the benefits of healthy eating without understanding all of the details. The key to healthy eating is to eat food, not shit. If you aren’t sure if something is food or shit, it’s probably shit. Things that are “cooked” by adding powder to water is almost certainly shit, and most cheap fast food and “all you can eat” buffé food is going to have a high shit-to-food ratio.

The easiest way is obviously to pay someone else to do your healthy cooking. Short of getting a personal chef, that means eating out. In bigger cities, there is usually a decent selection of restaurants that will offer actual food made out of things you find in nature (such as vegetables and the dead critters). I’m not going to tell you what you should be eating to be healthy, beyond the eat food, not shit rule, I’m simply going to suggest that investing in eating food instead of shit is likely to have a positive impact on your health.

If you DO want someone to tell you what to eat, your best investment is to consult a dietist. While there is plenty of free advice on the internet, taking advice from strangers who know nothing about your situation is usually not a great idea (but hey, you’re doing it right now!) A good dietist can suggest not only what you should eat, but also where you can get it (including restaurants that will serve it). A big challenge of healthy eating is knowing what is right for you: a pregnant coal miner has different needs than a diabetic office-dweller. Consulting a dietist can help you solve that problem. And if you’re the kind of person who like to have clear rules to follow, having your meal plan designed by a professional may make it easier for you to follow it.

Finally, while this section is called eat food, not shit, I’m not suggesting you should go completely locally-grown-organic-hipster unless you really want to. If you like to have a croissant with your Sunday breakfast, or find yourself downing a protein shake instead of lunch, I’m not going to judge you. We are not trying to become fitness models, the goal here is to become happier through being healthier. Sometimes happiness is a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine with your friends. Nobody likes to be around a carb-hunting nutcase, so please don’t become one! 

#2. Physical activity. Exercise, as most of us think about it, has less impact on your health than you think. Making significant health improvements through going to the gym or playing sports requires significant commitment, and I would only suggest it if you’re able to make a serious investment of both time, money and willpower. Yet, regular physical activity has so many benefits we would be fools not to invest somewhat in it. Exercise (when done right) reduces the risk of chronic back problems, improves your digestion, raises your energy level and lets you sleep better. The best Return On Investment is just going for a walk every day. If you have the time (see Part 1 for that) include it as part of your daily commute. Walking doesn’t even cost you any money (except you’ll wear out your shoes a lot faster) and you’ll probably break even on the time you spend because you’ll be more productive as a result of your exercise. If you live in a country where it’s rainy, snowy, cold, dark and/or miserable most of the year, you may prefer doing your exercise indoors. If you’re considering taking up a sport or joining a gym, your happiness depend on three things:

  • Finding something you enjoy doing, or at least something you can tolerate.
  • Make sure it’s sustainable.
  • Doing it right.

Finding something you enjoy doing usually just involves trying things out. This is extremely important because the end result we’re after here is to buy happiness; health is simply a way to get there. Doing a form of exercise you do not enjoy is a sure way to become miserable in the short run, and miserable and unhealthy in the long run. On the other hand, doing something you enjoy is likely to raise your happiness in itself. To find something you enjoy, consider not only the activity itself but also everything surrounding it; I enjoy combat sports, and I love the result of that kind of training, but I can’t stand group trainings. In the end, combat sports didn’t raise my happiness because the benefits are countered by the fact that I’m forced to exercise in a setting I don’t enjoy. I moved on to weight lifting and walking, which while not as much fun, contributed more to my over all happiness. You could be different; I know people who do not like the actual exercise at group trainings, but enjoy the social aspect so much they still end up enjoying it.

Sustainability means that you can keep doing something for a long time with the minimum hassle. Minimise everything that gives you an excuse not to be physically active. To me it’s better to pay a high price to join a mediocre gym next to my apartment, rather than getting a great deal on an awesome gym further away. Make it easy to be physically active. Don’t depend on unreliable people (everyone has that one friend who never shows up on time – don’t make that person your training partner), and don’t make your activity dependent on things you cannot control, like the weather.

Finally, making sure you’re doing it right is easily achieved by getting someone to teach you: personal trainers, running coaches, boxing instructors; whatever it is you chose to do to stay active, there will be someone who happily takes your money to show you how to improve your technique. Bad technique is a great way to hurt yourself, and that isn’t going to make you happy (if you enjoy getting hurt, there are more enjoyable ways!)

A note on dietists and personal trainers: One of the best investment advice I’ve ever gotten is to never invest in someone with passion. Passion blinds you to risk and adversity. Passion helps people achieve things, but it also makes it harder for them to be objective about those things; passionate people frequently go to great lengths to make fairly small improvements. That is the exact opposite of what you want to increase your happiness: you want someone who will give you low risk, low effort, high reward advice. If you’re investing in happiness through better health, you probably aren’t passionate about health, and you want advice that works for non-passionate people. It’s no good having a perfect meal plan that requires you to visit 6 special stores a week to buy the ingredients needed to slow-cooked organically-grown leather boots, or a training program that requires you to get up at 4am to lift kettle bells for two hours. When it comes to your health, you don’t want passionate people to project their passion on you: you want the grumpy Dr House who thinks you’re silly but will find out exactly what is wrong with you, and fix it.

#3. Sleep. After food, sleep is probably the most important thing you can invest in. If you’re not sleeping well, nothing else will matter much. You can have all the time in the world, but you won’t be able to do anything with it, and no matter how well things are going for you you won’t be enjoying them if you’re not sleeping enough. What consists “enough sleep” differs for different people, but you generally know when you’re not getting it.

If you’re working in an environment where people celebrate not sleeping, the best investment you can do is to get out of it. Seriously, this is the best investment in health and happiness you can ever make. I try not to give absolute advice, since everyone is different, but I will tell you this: you do NOT want to be on #teamnosleep. They’re a losing team. Who are proud of losing. Sometimes you have to burn the midnight oil in order to get your shit done, but it’s not something to be proud of. It’s like scrubbing the toilet: you sometimes have to do it, but not something you brag about on Instagram. If you’re stuck in a job where lack of sleep is worn as a badge of merit, you should start working on an exit strategy; it’s the equivalent of working with people who come into work while sick, and take pride in coughing on you. Even if you don’t join in, you’re still getting their diseases on you. 

The biggest improvement I made in quality of sleep was getting a new bed. I thought my old bed was good enough, until I had to travel extensively for work: sleeping in a different bed not only improved the quality of my sleep (despite the stress of travel and new assignments), it also caused a lingering lumbar pain to go away. It turns out, my old bed was great when I was 40lbs heavier, but wrong for me now. Remember that you will spend, on average, between a third and a fourth of your life in bed: it’s a good place to make some investments. As well as investing in the right bed, you want to invest in a good sleeping environment. Make sure you have a quiet, cool and dark place to sleep.

Putting it all together

Obviously, these things work well together. If you’re sleeping well and eating right, you’ll have an easier time being physically active. Being physically active and eating well will make it much easier to sleep. Freeing up time will make it much easier to get your needed physical exercise and sleep. All of these things will position you for greater happiness; even if what you enjoy most in life is eating cheese doodles and watching Netflix, it’s more enjoyable if you’re healthy.

These just keep getting longer; part 3 coming soon!