“Health isn’t the prize; the reason we care about health is because healthy people have more fun,” said Dr Katz. “So much of what we try to do individually and collectively is oriented towards improving our quality of life and advancing the human condition. If governments don’t care about health, then governments have no reason to exist. Governments ultimately need to reflect on the collective aspirations of people.”
In terms of government playing a role in creating such a society, Dr Katz mentioned: “A critical message that I would like to leave behind today is the balance of collective responsibility and individual responsibility. The choices people make are subordinate to choices people have, and the government plays a crucial role in the choices people have every day.”
The crucial link between health, happiness and productivity
According to Dr Selim, health, happiness and productivity are intrinsically linked. “Research suggests that happier doctors make better diagnoses and happier sales people make better sales. This affects the economy and world on a bigger scale.” Dr David shares similar views: “If you have the vitality to do the things you love, to be productive and to pursue your goals, you are much more likely to be happy. If you are happy and content, you are much more capable of making investments in your own health.”
Addressing the topic of physical health as the cornerstone of mental health, Dr Selim opined: “People think that physical health is the cornerstone of mental health, but I think it’s the opposite. I think it starts from within us. The government will give a lot of information, but unless you are willing to make changes on an individual level, it won’t work.” Dr David had a different view, “Mental health gives us the ability to take challenges. However, if you are physically unwell, it drains your mental energy. They are mutually supportive.”
Government communication necessary to promote a healthy lifestyle
“Government has a role to play and it is crucial in the age of social media to validate information,” Dr David replied when asked about how the government can promote ways to live a healthy lifestyle through communication. “When I started my medical career, roughly 30 years ago, people came to the doctor and asked us for advice. 30 years later, everyone is online. They think they know everything and most of their information is wrong. We need to first empty the vessel so that we can fill it, and the government can help. One of the things that can be done in Sharjah and UAE is to curate expert information about diet, physical activity and more in a concise guide.
The importance of measuring happiness
Wiking stressed the importance of creating a better way to measure progress as GDP and per capita as metrics are now insufficient. “We now see that more countries are starting to measure wellbeing and happiness. People around the world have realised that countries have gotten richer without becoming happier. The key question we need to ask nowadays is how can we convert ‘wealthy’ to ‘wellbeing’? Which investments should we make to better the quality of life of people?”
To this, Dr Katz added “Even if we are looking at economic measures, we may need to change the measures. How can we, within an economy, optimise productivity and happiness, while making the best use of our resources?”
Creating a culture of happiness and a sense of purpose
A running theme throughout the panel was instilling a sense of purpose within people as a way to create a culture of happiness. “One thing that is consistently linked to happiness is a sense of purpose and commitment. We need to ask people to help the government, to engage them and create that sense of purpose,” said Dr David.
Dr Selim suggested that attitude has an important role to play: “Happiness is an umbrella word as it means different things to different people. The word we should use now is attitude. Attitude is not just about reception; it’s about changing our thoughts and feelings to create the behaviour we want as an outcome. It’s important to align this on an individual level. An individual is a pebble that you can throw in a pond, creating a ripple effect that not only affects the local economy, but also the world.”
Dr David also shared his views on attitude and how the shift stems from government communication. “Awareness starts to permeate from culture and sense of community, which in turn, creates an attitudinal change. The government owns the pond that creates ripples and touches everybody.”
“If we want to create a behaviour change in people, we need to know what influences their attitude and what the government can do through communication to change it. Like being physically active - what gets in the way? Is it busy schedules, is it heat, or do we need more indoor opportunities? We need to think about the desired goal, the obstacles people can encounter and how we can motivate them.”
The eighth edition of IGCF was held under the theme ‘Behavioural Change Towards Human Development’ and organised by the International Government Communication Centre (IGCC), an SGMB subsidiary. It concluded on Thursday.
© Press Release 2019