I started noodling with the idea of writing a book back in 2001. It took 13 years for me to get around to actually embarking on the project.
To be fair, I had a few other things going on. During that time, I put out more than 100 issues of Experience Life magazine. I wrote my Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed Up World, launched RevolutionaryAct, worked up the “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy” mobile app.
I also wrote a bunch of monthly columns, hosted an FM radio show, and created a TV show pilot. I gave talks, consulted, taught some online classes, took people through my Refine Your Life workshops. Then I did a brief stint running the Healthy Living vertical at The Huffington Post and got involved with a bunch of other fun, worthwhile things.
And now, at last, the book project’s time has come. It’s working title: The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being Weirdly Radiant, Resilient, and Good in Your Own Skin.
Why do I want to write this book? Well, I guess for pretty much the same reason I’ve done all that other stuff: I want to life in a healthier, happier, more sustainable world. And I think that is only going to happen if we have more healthy, happy people showing up to address the challenges we are facing — individually and collectively.
Here’s just a little of what’s got me motivated to create positive change:
- Today, more than 50 percent of adults in this country are chronically ill.
- Two thirds of us are overweight or obese.
- Today’s kids are the first generation in U.S. history predicted to live less long than their parents; huge numbers of them are chronically ill before they turn 18.
- Seventy percent of U.S. adults regularly take one or more prescription drugs on a regular basis.
- The top-selling drugs are meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression and heartburn — all lifestyle-related conditions that can only be healed through lifestyle changes.
- Seventy-five to eighty percent of the money we are spending on healthcare is being spent ineffectively on obesity-linked, lifestyle-related diseases.
- Globally, said ineffective treatments of chronic disease is projected to suck up $47 trillion dollars over the next 20 years (think of all much cooler and more interesting stuff we could do with that kind of money!)
- Fewer than 20 percent of us are considered to be mentally and emotionally thriving; the remaining 80 percent, according to psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are “just getting by” or “living lives of quiet despair”.
Yikes. Just stop and think about that for a minute. The majority of U.S. population is sick and/or overweight, and/or depressed. Only a relatively tiny minority is healthy, happy and thriving. And most of these trends appear to be worsening. Yikes!
So, what does it mean to live in a society that reliably produces more unhealthy, unhappy, vulnerable people than healthy, happy, resilient ones — and tanks its own economy in the process?
It means, quite plainly, that the society we are living in is sick.
That sickness shows up everywhere – in our families and communities, our healthcare system, our food supply, our businesses, our built environments, our media, our government, our schools, our religious institutions, our financial systems, our ecological systems, and especially in our relationships to ourselves and each other.
The tricky part is that fixing all this is going to require a whole lot of strong, healthy, hopeful people — people who are energized enough to bringing their A-game and swim against the tide.
Unfortunately, the world we’re living in now produces far more people so depleted that they probably aren’t even bringing their B-game. Most of us don’t really have time or energy to think about swimming in new directions, because we are barely treading water as it is.
That’s what I want to change — by empowering and emboldening people who want to change it for themselves.
So, that’s what my book is all about. The Healthy Deviant has a few key premises:
- That being a healthy, happy person in our predominantly unhealthy culture requires socially non-compliant (i.e. deviant) acts and attitudes. Because unconventional viewpoints and behaviors are inherently counterintuitive, and because they often carry risks, costs and other social disincentives, relatively few people are inclined to embrace them. However, while the barriers to Healthy Deviance might seem daunting, they can be relatively easily overcome with the right strategies and know-how (descriptions and scientific evidence for which appear in the book).
- That our culturally-skewed, historically limited view of our present circumstances leads us to embrace approaches that work against us. Basically, we’ve all been fed a whole lot of BS about what it takes to be a healthy and happy in this culture. As the result of misleading media, symptom-oriented medical counsel, and our own short-sighted myopia, most of us have been misled about the true scope and nature of our collective discontent and disease. We’re so focused on our own personal and immediate symptoms and struggles, we can’t seem to get a clear view of their true origins and the underlying mechanisms that are producing our collective, widespread challenges. This “can’t see the forest for the trees” dynamic makes us vulnerable to superficial and ineffective quick fixes. It encourages us to inadequately address our perceived problems, and to ignore their real root causes.
- That our repeated experiences of failure with ill-fated health-improvement tactics has lead us to wrongly believe our health issues are unsolvable or too difficult to overcome. The struggle, deprivation and lackluster results most people experience with conventional health-improvement prescriptions leads many to conclude that they are not worth the amount of effort and discomfort they require. This engenders learned helplessness, exhaustion, passivity, victimization, and shame. It inclines many to seek out pain-management and distraction strategies rather than innovating toward more rewarding ways of living, and in this way, exacerbates many people’s health struggles. It also skews our idea of “normal” health and fitness in an ever-lower direction.
- That by embracing Healthy Deviance, we can break free from these limiting conditions, and make it easier for others to do so. By integrating practices and perspective shifts that revitalize rather than depleting and defeating us, we can blaze more rewarding paths toward our own ideals of health and happiness. Both by modeling successful approaches and outcomes and by directly challenging old conventions, we can become a growing throng of bright-spot outliers who collectively shift cultural norms, raise hopes, and by extension, change the world for the better.
My book makes a case for these ideas both through objective argument and subjective experience. It integrates insights drawn from sociology, positive psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurochemistry, combining them with my own personal narrative and ample opportunities for reader self-reflection.
The book also presents a “Healthy-Deviant Adventure” program that guides readers to integrate some simple but transformative practices into their own lives, and to experience both the immediate and longer-term rewards for themselves.
There’s more, but I’m in the middle of it and it’s constantly shape-shifting, so I won’t blather on. I’m figuring the book will take me a couple years to write. But I’ll share some juicy bits as I go. Thanks for coming on the ride with me!