Sep 15

“Everyday Vitality”: Self-Care or Other-Care?

Boardman’s most successful argument is that society’s focus on self-care does more harm than good, as building community and finding supportive friends and family is crucial to well-being, while focusing too much on the self can increase rumination and, ultimately, depression: “Self-care might be all the rage,” she writes, “but it’s important not to forget ‘other-care’ as a source of vitality and resilience.” Publishers Weekly, regarding Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress into Strength by Samantha Boardman, MD

In her new book Everyday Vitality psychiatrist Samantha Boardman describes vitality as “the positive feeling of aliveness and energy that lies at the core of well-being and at the heart of a good day,” per the publisher. “You will discover how increased vitality boosts productivity, builds coping skills, and enhances your ability to manage negative emotions.”

Furthermore, there are three main wellsprings of vitality:

  • meaningfully connecting with others
  • engaging in experiences that challenge you
  • contributing to something beyond yourself

The ways Boardman thinks you can achieve everyday vitality include “reflection questions to help one ‘understand oneself and one’s inner conflicts’ and…activities such as helping others out, learning something new, and exercising…” (Publishers Weekly).

What does she say about self-care? From Boardman’s website post titled Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Self-Care? ...Here’s the thing,” she says. “You can take care of yourself and be there for others at the same time.” You can and need to do both.

Selected Quotes

It is well established that having a shoulder to lean on helps us get through a bad day, and studies show that social support is one of the best salves for stress. Less well-known are studies that show how providing a shoulder to lean on helps buffer against stress.

In a University of California, Los Angeles, and Yale School of Medicine research article titled “Prosocial Behavior Helps Mitigate the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life,” participants who engaged in other-focused behavior, such as holding open a door, asking someone if they needed help, and lending a hand, reported better moods and lower daily stress levels than those who didn’t.

In sum, self-care is a good thing. Just don’t let it become the only thing.

Bestselling author Andrew Solomons review of Everyday Vitality:

In this gloriously insightful, intimate, eminently readable book, Samantha Boardman has captured and extended the dynamics of positive psychology, teaching us how to rebuild our lives and invest them with joy. Mixing rigorous scholarship with sophisticated common sense and an underlying generosity of spirit, she writes in readable, accessible, captivating terms about how to experience the world more fully and richly. Her flashes of profound insight, her mastery of the complexities of her topic, her gentle sense of humor, and her cheerful celebration of our capacity to achieve positive change all make this a must-read for anyone who seeks meaning and fulfillment. This is a brilliant and necessary volume, written with grace, style, and, most of all, a deeply moving compassion.

Mar 07

“Happier?” by Daniel Horowitz

At the same time that our collective preoccupation with happiness has grown, though, our actual happiness has declined — research shows that Americans are noticeably unhappier than we were just a few decades ago. Cody Delistraty, The Cut, addressing Daniel Horowitz’s book Happier?

In Happier?: The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America (2017) historian/author Daniel Horowitz draws on various areas of knowledge to examine our country’s evolving preoccupation with seeking “subjective well-being” à la the positive psychology movement that “has vigorously fostered its development” (Psychology Today).

A significant conclusion of Horowitz in Happier?, per Cody Delistraty, The Cut, is that the positive psychology movement “parallels the growth of both inequality in the U.S. and the cultural emphasis on individuality.” In addition, “Happiness studies, he argues, seem to be a way of convincing people they’re happy — or could be happy — even as they’re being dealt increasingly bad hands in terms of things like income inequality, educational affordability, and access to health care.”

Such things  as meditation, yoga, and “the conflation of success and merit” are symbolic of Americans’ attempts to reach a state of perceived life satisfaction. Maybe these work for some, but as Delistraty remarks, “When the less-privileged person fails to achieve the happiness they desire, they’re told to blame themselves first and foremost, rather than the circumstances that have helped shape their life.”

Delistraty elaborates further on evolving concepts regarding life fulfillment. For example, happiness is increasingly defined not just as a positive emotion but as eudaimonia, which is” the Aristotelian definition of happiness: well-being that comes from living a moral life.” This newer idea is represented by the following: “To make morality, rather than happiness, your central goal is to ultimately achieve a greater form of satisfaction.”

As Horowitz recently told Jill Suttie, Greater Good:

I think it’s clear that hedonic pleasures—like back rubs or eating chocolate—don’t offer much in the long run. Though important to people for the moment, they are not important for them in the long term or in their more global sense of well-being. The movement away from—or in addition to—hedonic happiness, and toward a focus on meaning and purposefulness, is to be fully welcomed and embraced, because that shift helps scientists and people like me understand the importance of a much broader range of experience.