Wellness, National Security & the Pursuit of Happiness

National security interests involve more than protecting borders and having a strong military. They also include fostering economic prosperity, contributing to international order, and preserving national identity and way of life. However, there should be an explicit mention of the role of wellness (to include mental, emotional and physical health and well-being). Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness is in itself a byproduct of well-being. When wellness and well-being become a strategic reality in the national security interests discussion, its citizens are given more opportunities to pursue the best version of themselves, which also includes being a more productive, innovative and healthy citizen of the nation — resulting in a nation that is the best version of itself.

In his remarks at the University of Kansas, on March 16th, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy made a well articulated case for wellbeing:

“Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year… Yet that gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Decades later former British Prime Minister Cameron said “Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.” This was followed by a directive to the Office for National Statistics to conduct a national well-being survey in the U.K.

The European Union measures national wellness through its “European Quality of Life Survey” which is run by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) found health to be a centerpiece in human happiness and well-being and “an important contribution to economic progress”. They were not the only ones to observe the overlap between health, well-being, and economic prosperity, it was also observed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) whose role is “to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world”. They created the Better Life Index which has a comprehensive set of 11 metrics to measure the quality of life: housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. Their index maps a wide range of countries from all continents and is regularly updated.

The Economist has reported on the positive relationship between happiness and GDP, and professors at the University of Miami’s School of Business conducted studies to evaluate this claimed relationship. The goal of their study was to determine the role that mood and optimism can play in overall economic activity. In order to do this, they “used several factors to measure mood, optimism and pessimism not influenced by the economic environment” this included weather, political affiliation and sports-related optimism. Observing local economic activity and performance they also accounted for housing conditions, employment levels and income growth (components that are included in the OECD’s Better Life Index). They found that “peoples’ overall good mood and positive outlook can make the impact of a recession weaker, shorter in length and easier to get over.” They also found that “moderate optimism induced by the weather is good for the local economy, and that mood affects local economic activity in part because it leads to higher retail sales.”

In efforts to measure employee wellness and organizational vitality, Virgin Group conducted a large sample size study surveying around 1,300 businesses and 10,000 employees. They found that there was indeed a strong link; and that employee wellness was directly related to “increased job morale, satisfaction, commitment and performance.” More and more organizations are looking into corporate employee wellness programs which include (but are not limited to) napping areas, healthy food options, yoga classes, games, and daycare for children of employees. Well-being has been shown to increase productivity in companies, and boost local economies, there is no reason why it does not have the potential to do the same at a national level. The OECD Better Life Index has captured the elements of what a holistic approach to wellbeing entails. This is a good model for nations to follow as health, education, environment, jobs, and sense of community are all interlinked.

In an era of disruptive change, economic uncertainty, and a volatile political climate, wellness has the potential to be a powerful tool to address these challenges. That is, for those who embrace it….

Senator Kennedy, concluded his remarks at the University of Kansas by saying:

“So I come here to Kansas to ask for your help. In the difficult five months ahead, before the convention in Chicago, I ask for your help and for your assistance. If you believe that the United States can do better. If you believe that we should change our course of action. If you believe that the United States stands for something here internally as well as elsewhere around the globe, I ask for your help and your assistance and your hand over the period of the next five months.
And when we win in November, and when we win in November, and we begin a new period of time for the United States of America — I want the next generation of Americans to look back upon this period and say as they said of Plato: “Joy was in those days, but to live.”

He was assassinated a few months later on June 6, 1968, however five decades later, in 2018, his message rings true to our time.

Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos’ (@LKCYBER) work lies in the intersection of strategy, technology, education, and national security. Her professional experience spans three continents, several countries and multi-cultural environments. She speaks and writes on disruptive technology convergence, innovation, tech ethics, and national security. She is an advisor to the AI Initiative at The Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School, participates in NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Program, is a member of the FBI’s InfraGard Alliance, and during the Obama administration has received the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her pro bono work in cybersecurity. www.lkcyber.com