“We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity,” wrote H.G. Wells.
Just a few months ago an aching lower back pain woke me up to the awful fact that something was wrong. I made an appointment with the local chiropractor, who took and examined an X-ray of the lower vertebrae. The visual result showed a deteriorating disk which was causing two vertebrae to gradually conform to the collapsing cartilage, causing pain and discomfort. I asked the doctor how this could happen! I was surprised that with all the healthy food and lifestyle I subscribed to I would have such a problem. He asked if I were sitting much. It dawned on me that I had not been moving frequently, but had been sitting most of the day to read, study, write curriculum and rest. My exercise program had all but gone out the door and I was stationary most of the day. He confirmed the future verdict. I would soon be experiencing more and more pain and possibly surgery if I did not change my ways and improve my movement. He taught me that the disks do not inherently receive nourishment through the skeletal system on their own. When the body bends, the vertebrae squeeze nutrients into the disk, which strengthens it. With a lack of movement, the disks receive little to no nutrients and they begin to shrink. Vertebrae, then, grow closer to each other and can eventually fuse together causing excruciating back pain. My eyes were open as my mind exploded with images of walking canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and hospital beds. No, this was not the path I desired to tread. A change would happen. The Chiropractor prescribed frequent daily movement besides special stretches and regular exercise. I purchased a Fitbit Charge 2 from Costco and began my regimen, but that was not all. I began contemplating the significance of all aspects of personal improvement.
While pain and necessity tend to furnish powerful wake-up calls, some people choose the easy path of medical assistance, while others go about setting goals and continue moving toward the accomplishment of those goals. It would seem that the consistent goal for personal happiness consists of good health and well-being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Admittedly, differing opinions may feel that bodily degeneration is part of life and generally accepted, for instance, the ubiquitous handicapped sign. Nevertheless, The obvious goal for personal happiness, which consists of good health and well-being, is that a person should continually be moving and improving the character, the body, and the spirit.
Improving the character requires tenacity and diligence to prune the weaknesses and build the strengths. Aristotle teaches the idea of potentiality and the movement towards what we are capable of learning and doing. He uses the Greek word energeia to describe the potency, or potential, of something or someone. In his translation of Nicomachean Ethics, Joe Sachs describes how to understand this energeia as “being-at-work-ness.” Aristotle believed that a human was always tending toward either improvement or degeneration depending on whether or not he was being-at-work to improve. Essentially, if one is to improve their character, one must exert effort and energy to swim upstream against the strong current of apathy and complacency. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Rise to the great potential within you.” It is a privilege and a divine decree to become what one was created to become. Margaret D. Nadauld invited the women of the LDS church to rise up, “Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.” It is not enough to sit motionless where one now finds herself. In fact, it is a nontruth to sit motionlessly. One seems always to move, either forward or backward, but the only movement which requires effort is to move in a positive advancing direction. Set goals; move forward.
Improving the physical body similarly requires persistent daily movement and proper nourishment. Although nourishing the body is of considerable importance, I will focus on movement. The most beneficial is the non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) throughout the day. It involves the regular movement around the home or office, climbing the stairs, doing tasks, walking from the car to the store, standing up, reaching for things, etc. The vertebrae and disks benefit the most from NEAT and stretching. I can vouch for it as my back has fully recovered from several months of daily movement and stretching. A Fitbit or other exercise tracking device is useful in reminding one to stand up hourly and move. Making time each week to exercise aerobically improves the heart and alternating with strength training strengthens the muscles and increases stamina in the overall body. The trick to continued physical improvement ultimately depends upon the automaticity of daily movement, or as Aristotle would teach, the being-at-work-ness, of building the strength of all bodily functions.
Finally, the third area of improvement toward happiness is strengthening the spirit. Knowing one’s divine nature as a child of God does more for the spiritual energeia, than anything else. Both improving Character and strengthening the physical body boost the spiritual capacity. By enlightening the mind to truth and nourishing the lifeblood, one looks upward to their Creator with an intense desire to come closer to Him who heals, comforts, blesses, and guides. Being-at-work-ness looks like a person who studies the scriptures, communes with God through prayer, sing hymns of praises, repents often, makes and keeps sacred covenants in the temple, prepares himself weekly to take the Sacrament and improve his soul through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
There are those that believe it is easier to coast, not worrying about self-improvement. What good can come from exerting effort in something so difficult when it is natural to drift along where life is taking them? No doubt these are the people who perceive there is no great reward in swimming upstream or possibly those who place the victim hat upon their head who feel they are behind in the race and cannot compete with those who are trying. In the short-term cruising along appears easier, but in the long run, their character, physical body, and spirit will certainly degenerate.
Other naysayers feel that no matter what they do to improve, that degeneration is inevitable. They feel that they have tried but to no avail. They are bombarded with setbacks and obstacles. For them, there is no point in improving self when the tide is strong against them. They are correct that obstacles stand in the way, that vicissitudes riddle life’s opportunities, but to them, I say they are denying agency and effort. They are denying their responsibility to improve self and society. They are ultimately denying the greatest happiness that comes from mastering oneself. What would have happened if Mother Theresa would have been overcome by her poverty and stopped her devoted service that saved hundreds? Great men and women let nothing shroud or impede their goals, but they face every deterrent, every obstacle, every hurdle and eventually their weaknesses become strengths.
Individual improvement begins with a desire, a goal, and the determination to be continually at-work-ness. It is a repetitious and habitual pattern of becoming. The consistent goal for ultimate happiness, which consists of good health and well-being should be that a person continually be moving and improving. Improvement builds an honorable character, movement builds a strong back and body, and both inspire lasting spiritual health. The daily practice of setting and achieving goals is to greatness as the moving and bending of the vertebrae is to a healthy spinal disk. The Good Life depends upon it.