Happy Healthy Holiday!

Posted: December 18, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Leadership, People

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Charles Matthews bioScott Adams, author of the popular Dilbert cartoon strip, often captures the essence of many contemporary business and organizational issues. This was certainly the case when a recent strip featured Asok, the office intern, asking Alice if she had any valuable career advice.  Alice replies, “Word so hard that it destroys your health and crowds out any chance of having a personal life.”  Asok, looking puzzled, replies, “Wouldn’t that make me… unhappy?”  Whereupon, Alice succinctly notes, “You didn’t ask for happiness advice.”

It is a quintessential business zapper – simultaneously eliciting a chuckle and a “hey, wait a minute” response.  With the Holiday Season in full swing, however, it does give us pause to stop and reflect on both the state of our happiness and our health.  Indeed, the two are inextricably interlaced and often overlooked when it comes to understanding the importance of health in the world of business, in general, and small, entrepreneurial, and family business settings, in particular.  While the national conversation often is focused on the availability of health insurance, we run the risk of losing sight of the importance of personal health. Let’s take a look at the role of health in building successful ventures, happiness, and taking care of ourselves and our loved ones.

Good Health Doesn’t Just Happen

Professor Olivier Torres, who holds dual appointments at the University of Montpellier (ERFI-GREG) and the EM Lyon School of Business in France, delivered a fascinating keynote speech at the annual Research in Entrepreneurship Conference RENT XXVII on the topic of entrepreneurs and health.  He is one of the few researchers to actively examine this critical topic and his work is quite revealing.  In brief, he notes that factors which determine poor (pathogenic) and good (salutogenic) health have an important impact on how we live, work, and achieve our personal and professional goals.

There are three core concepts in achieving health and happiness: coping with stress; diet, exercise, and sleep; and as Professor Torres identifies, achieving a balance in the “fundamental health entrepreneurship equation.”

Coping with Stress.  While some stress can be good, Alice’s career advice to Asok is the classic formula for the wrong kind of stress.  Researchers note that stress can have benefits – sharpening our focus, improving our memory, staving off disease, and preserving our lives (fight or flight).  Of course, too much stress can have just the opposite effect – weakening our immune system, causing fatigue, and just plain making us cranky. One of the first steps in coping with stress is recognizing the good and not so good stressors in our lives.  Small business owners and entrepreneurs often become so focused on pursuing their passion and achieving their dream they lose sight of the debilitating effects of stress on themselves and their loved ones.  Often this is compounded by a lack of understating on the part of a spouse or family member who then inadvertently aggravates the situation by making demands for change to which the entrepreneur is blind.  The key here is stepping back, keeping the lines of communication open, and scheduling down time.

Diet, Exercise, and Sleep.  People who know my penchant for swimming laps for exercise often ask me if swimming is the best exercise.  To which I always reply the best exercise is the one that you will actually do!  The numbers on the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes tell one side of the story.  The other side is we have a choice to make good diet and exercise choices.  Eat healthy, exercise, and get adequate sleep.  For entrepreneurs, all three of these can be significant challenges.

The Entrepreneurship Health Equation.  Professor Torres provides an insight into the importance of what he refers to as the fundamental equation for entrepreneurial health.  On the one hand are the pathogenic factors that characterize work conditions (e.g., stress, overwork, solitude, and uncertainty).  On the other hand are salutogenic factors (e.g., internal drive, optimism, and endurance) that are the basis of the entrepreneurs’ belief system.  Striving for balance and seeking assistance when out of balance is fundamental to success.

Plato noted long ago, “Attention to health is life’s greatest hindrance.”  At this festive time of year, take a moment to pause and reflect on how you can give and receive the greatest gift to your family and yourself. Here’s to your health and happiness this Christmas.  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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