There are two models for a healthy life: medicine and wellness. The medicine model is the most common model in our culture, in which the normal state of being is the ideal. When an affliction arises that is sufficiently persistent or extreme, the approach is to seek some form of medicine, treatment, or procedure to correct this abnormality.
The wellness model is quite different. Instead of being a tool, it is a way of life. For wellness-adherents, the normal state of being is just okay – but better health and general wellbeing is possible if you choose to undertake various positive habits, such as exercise, diet, meditation, journaling, and other such practices. By following the wellness model, the goal is to prevent getting sick in the first place.
These models can coexist quite well but are often arrayed in opposition to one another. Doctors and surgeons are required to take very few credit hours in nutrition or wellness practices over the course of their medical education – less than two hours total over the entire course of medical school, in many cases. They often scoff at the assertion that certain nutritional supplements or practices such as meditation and yoga are any kind of a panacea. Yogis and naturopaths, sometimes completely unfamiliar with the latest science, often warn about the arrogant and imperial postures taken by Western scientists and physicians.
But these models do not have to be at odds. Heart surgery saves lives. Running five days a week and eating a healthy diet can prevent you from ever having to visit the heart surgeon, but if you have faulty genes that make heart surgery a necessity regardless of conditioning and wellness, you are surely grateful for the achievements of the medicine model of health. The medicine model is the best solution to such problems. On the other hand, more people taking good care of themselves would free up a lot of time and resources for doctors to focus on the cases that are most important.
These two philosophies of health can be synchronous and synergistic if they take the time to coordinate and learn from one another. Billions, perhaps even trillions, of dollars stand to be saved with the improvement of public health and wellness. A healthier society preoccupied with wellness reduces strain on the medicine model and helps create the conditions for a society that is generally less illness and emergency prone. That means doctors taking the time to study nutrition and meditation, in addition to their other concerns, and meditation instructors familiarizing themselves with the latest science to support their efforts.
Marc Andreessen said that software is eating the world. What was it about software, precisely, that makes it “eat” other things? What Andreessen was referring to here, I believe, is its ability to streamline old processes, make the inefficient efficient, and unlock all kinds of sources of productivity, time, and joyful experience. Wellness stands to do the same thing with medicine. More humans adopting healthier ways of life will streamline our medical care processes, unlock greater happiness and productivity, and allow for higher quality modes of thinking, working, and loving. It is perhaps essential then, that just as software ate “the world,” wellness must eat medicine. Hopefully, it will go down easy.