I spent last week traveling to Europe and speaking in a few different countries about nutrition and educating people on the role it plays in human health.
While traveling I did a lot of thinking and reflecting and a lot of writing that I will be posting over the next few days/weeks and I wanted to start this little “mini series” with the thing that really hit me the hardest.
As a species we are trading wealth for health. The data are showing this so starkly it frightens me a bit.
In almost every country than has transitioned from “developing to developed” and become relatively wealthy, the rates of obesity and the subsequent diseases that arise from obesity (diabetes, CVD, etc.) rise in parallel.
Look at Mexico, India, and China and the rates of obesity and their temporal relation to their transition from developing to developed.
Wealth should allow people to be healthier. It should provide more time for people to spend being active, chasing happiness, etc. Yet, the race for wealth has left most of those things as side projects after wealth has been established and in many cases it appears it is quite difficult to get them back.
It is hard to argue that on the whole, most of us trade wealth for health.
When you shrink the world down to an individual level there are only really two non-renewable resources (it can be argued they are similar): time and health.
Time is something you never get back. Everything you do is an opportunity cost for time: you never get those moments back. Many of us (myself included) get stuck in the mindset of chasing wealth, more money, nicer houses, etc. I think this is a natural extension from the environment we have been born in and the fact that we don’t really struggle to survive. Chasing wealth gives us some false sense of purpose. But almost all of us have more than we actually need. I could probably work about 30% as much as I do and still live a life of affluence if you consider the global context and historical context. Even those who live at the poverty line are wealthier than 99.99% of all humans in history.
Coupled with trading time for money, we often trade money/wealth for our health. I am probably one of the guiltiest people in this regard: I place an exaggerated amount of my self worth on my work, how people perceive me in a professional context, and how successful I am financially. If I can work an extra 10 hours a week and make an extra $200 dollars, I have almost always chosen that option. When I was sitting on the plane yesterday I started to really think about that and the math behind that and how absurd that really is.
Let’s assume I work an extra 10 hours a week to make an extra $200 dollars. If I do that every week of a year I make an extra $10,400 dollars a year and the cost of 500 hours, or 12.5/3 months weeks of work a year. Over a 50 year career that does add up quite a bit, ~$500,000 or so. That means maybe a nicer retirement or more money I can pass off to my kids. But it also means that means an extra 25,000 hours of my life is spent chasing that money. If you break that down to 8 hour days of work, that is almost 12 years of a full time job I spent on top of my normal life chasing that extra money. 12 years of time I could have spent enjoying the days with my wife, my family, riding a bike, cooking, reading, giving back to the community.
Or it is 25,000 hours I could spend devoted to my health and adding years to my time on this planet.
Doing that math scared me, in a big way. It made me realize how these choices I make about where I spend my time add up in a big, meaningful way.