Recently a group of MAPP alumni gathered at University of Pennsylvania, to hear the latest and greatest updates on Positive Psychology from Martin Seligman, the Director of the University’s Positive Psychology Center. I was particularly excited to hear him talk about the progress in discussions on “Positive Health” being funded by a $2.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Seligman has pulled together a team of health experts to figure out how they can bring a positive view of health and healthcare to the forefront. Some of the initiatives they are working on include evaluating existing longitudinal research for pieces of data that might show a link between positive elements (hope, happiness, optimism, etc.) and illness (imagine the opposite of a “risk factor.”) They are also discussing how to measure wellbeing in a way that doesn’t merely calculate the amount of illness and disease in the world, but also the amount of health and flourishing.
The spa industry (where I work,) has been talking about positive health for decades (if not centuries,) so it is exciting to see the medical establishment finally embracing some of these ideas. Chris Peterson wrote about this new initiative on his Psychology Today blog yesterday:
This initiative has gathered together an interdisciplinary team from cardiology, psychiatry, psychology, epidemiology, exercise science, and public health to examine what it means to be healthy above-and-beyond the absence of symptoms and diseases. I am a member of this team, and part of our work has been to undertake research showing that attention to the positive matters for physical well-being, just as it does for psychological well-being, even when risk factors for morbidity and mortality are taken into account.
We have defined positive health as the scientific study of health assets: factors that produce longer life, lower morbidity, lower health care expenditure, better prognosis when illness does strike, and/or higher quality of physical health … over and above the usual suspect risk factors like hypertension, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. The field of positive health overlaps with other fields like disease prevention, health promotion, and wellness but has its own signature provided by its explicit focus on health assets.
Peterson goes on to explain two proposals that the field of positive health generates: First, (what he describes as a “modest proposal,”) that “’positive factors’ indeed predict good health.” And second, (a “bold proposal,”) that there is such a thing as “super health,” and we’ve been too busy paying attention to the sick to ask any questions about why some people are healthier than others.
It is great to see a room full of some of the smartest minds in health sciences getting together and asking the right questions to increase the amount of human flourishing in the world. My only criticism is that, like in most healthcare discussions in this country, the voice of spa is nowhere to be found. Since I had a nagging doubt about that, I posted this question to Chris Peterson’s blog. Read it and then let me know what you think:
I can’t help but wonder if there is room for a voice from the spa industry (full disclosure: my industry) in these discussions. The spa industry often does not get considered in these kinds of conversations, and in some ways we are our own worst enemies. We have a bad reputation for being unscientific, focusing on the superficial in beauty and medical spas, and being elitist in our pricing and marketing. But the core and roots of the spa world is about positive and holistic wellness. The spa might be the only healing institution in today’s society that people actually look forward to going to. The spa industry has experience in a way that healthcare does not in treating healthy populations, focusing on prevention over treatment, and making people feel good while making them feel well.
By the way, as much as I would like to be that voice in the room and help to bring the contribution that I think my industry could have, I realize there are others who may be even more qualified. For example, Richard Carmona, former Surgeon General and Vice Chairman of Canyon Ranch Resorts and Spas, or Dr. Mark Liponis, who is the medical director for Canyon Ranch. Dr. Brent Bauer is the Director of Complementary and Integrative Medicine for the Mayo Clinic and serves as medical advisor to the International Spa Association. Or maybe some of the founders of the modern spa industry, such as Deborah Szekely of Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta who has been talking about positive health for over 50 years, or Sheila Cluff of the Oaks at Ojai who has been living and teaching the benefits of a spa lifestyle for her entire life, and is still figure skating at almost 75 years old! Or there is psychologist Nina Smiley PhD, who founded Mohonk Mountain House and teaches meditation techniques to her guests for stress relief, weight loss and general health. Or Dr. Jen Seda, spa and medical consultant and co-author of “Happiness & Health”, who has begun doing research on the health benefits of spa experiences. Honestly, the list could go on and on.
I realize only a small group can be selected to work on this particular project around positive health, and from what I have heard, the talents and experience around the table are already extremely impressive. I only ask the question to plant a seed of recognition that we are experiencing a “spa-ification” of health care, even if we don’t see it as such. Hospitals, clinics, and doctors offices are beginning to look more like spas, in large part because doctors are realizing that how an intervention is delivered has an impact on its effectiveness. How the patient feels (emotionally) has an impact. The setting has an impact. The demeanor of the provider has an impact.
It is easy to dismiss (or even criticize) the spa industry for being less than scientific. But I find it interesting that the science seems to be catching up with the spa industry, and not the other way around.
I would love to hear your comments on this one!