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Can You be Happy Without Being Healthy?

Cheerfulness is the principal ingredient in the composition of health.

[The following passage is from Paul Brand’s Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, 1988. The son of English missionaries working in India, Brand went on to become a surgeon who developed new, innovative techniques for hand surgery. He also revolutionized our understanding of leprosy: the disfigurement is caused by the lack of respect for the body that results from the condition of painlessness (which is caused by the disease) and not because the disease causes the flesh to become “non-healing” or to change in any way.]

The reason I encourage gratitude is that one’s underlying attitude (a product of the mind) toward the body can have a major impact on health. If I regard the body with respect, wonder, and appreciation, I will be far more inclined to behave in a way that sustains its health. In my work with leprosy patients, I could make repairs to hands and feet, but these improvements, I soon learned, amounted to nothing unless the patients themselves assumed responsibility for their limbs. The essence of rehabilitation—indeed, the essence of health—was to restore to my patients a sense of personal destiny over their own bodies.

When I moved to the United States, I expected to find that a society with such high standards of education and medical sophistication would foster a strong sense of personal responsibility in health. I have found exactly the opposite. In Western countries, an astounding proportion of the health problems stem from behavior choices that show disregard for the body’s clear signals.

We doctors know this truth, but we shy away from interfering in our patients’ lives. If we were fully honest, we might say something like this: “Listen to your body, and above all listen to your pain. It may be trying to tell you that you are violating your brain with tension, your ears with loudness, your eyes with constant television, your stomach with unhealthy food, your lungs with cancer-producing pollutants. Listen carefully to the message of pain before I give you something to relieve those symptoms. I can help with the symptoms, but you must address the cause.”

Health is identical with the degree of lived freedom.

Ivan Illich

Given medicine’s history of magic poultices, blood-letting, ice-cold baths, and other “cures,” we should be grateful that at least doctors had the placebo effect working in their favour. Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (who gave us the epigram mesmerize) “cured” patients with his animal Magnetism theories. . . . Two nineteenth-century French physicians advocated directly contradictory methods of treatment. Dr. Raymond at Salpetriere in Paris suspended his patients by their feet to allow blood to flow to their heads. Dr. Haushalter at Nancy suspended his patient’s head upward. Their results: exactly the same percentage of patients showed improvement. Norman Cousins has remarked, “Indeed, many medical scholars have believed that the history of medicine is actually the history of the placebo effect. Sir William Osler underlined the point by observing that the human species is distinguished from the lower order by its desire to take medicine. Considering the nature of nostrums taken over the centuries, it is possible that another distinguishing feature of the species is its ability to survive medication.”

Paul Brand

Time and time again, throughout the history of medical practice, what was once considered as “scientific” eventually becomes regarded as “bad practice.”

David Stewart

I tell you, the old-fashioned doctor who treated all diseases has completely disappeared, now there are only specialists, and they advertise all the time in the newspapers. If your nose hurts, they send you to Paris: there’s a European specialist there, he treats noses. You go to Paris, he examines your nose: I can treat only your right nostril, he says, I don’t treat left nostrils, it’s not my specialty, but after me, go to Vienna, there’s a separate specialist there who will finish treating your left nostril.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (from The Brothers Karamazov, 1880)

There is one advantage of being poor—a doctor will cure you faster.

Kin Hubbard

Thoughts about Health & Doctors

A cartoon shows a witch doctor standing dejectedly over the body of his late patient and saying to the grieving widow, “There is so much that we still don’t know!”

Doctors put drugs of which they know little into bodies of which they know less for diseases of which they know nothing at all.


Beyond a certain level of intensity, medicine engenders helplessness and disease.

Ivan Illich

Nothing is more fatal to health than an over care of it.

Benjamin Franklin

Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health and is as friendly to the mind as to the body.

Joseph Addison

He who laughs, lasts, but the surly bird catches the germ.

Diseases have a character of their own, but they also partake of our character.

Oliver Sacks

The mind has great influence over the body, and maladies often have their origin there.


Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body.


Mental health problems do not affect three or four out of every five persons, but one out of one.

Karl Menninger

Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.

Norman Cousins

The doctor of the future will be oneself.

Albert Schweitzer

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion is weak, men mistake medicine for magic.

Thomas Szasz

One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.

Sir William Osler

Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.


The greatest of follies is to sacrifice health for any other kind of happiness.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

Redd Foxx

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.

Leon Eldred

I have never yet met a healthy person who worried very much about his health, or a really good person who worried much about his own soul.   NEW LINK (Apr 11/24)

J. B. S. Haldane

The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped.

G. K. Chesterton

If the pain wanders, do not waste your time with doctors.

Mignon McLaughlin

Most things get better by themselves. Most things, in fact, are better by morning.

Lewis Thomas

Illness is the most heeded of doctors: to goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey.

Marcel Proust

Health is not valued till sickness comes.

Thomas Fuller

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.


It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.

Margaret Mead

Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.


God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.

Benjamin Franklin

Nearly all men die of their remedies, and not of their illnesses.


No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.


Plato said that the body’s problems proceed from the soul, and that unless the soul or mind is satisfied first the body can never be cured.

It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.

Sir William Osler

The miserable have no other medicine,
But only hope . . .

Measure for Measure (Claudio)

The best healer is the most ingenious inspirer of hope.

The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality.

Herbert Spencer

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.

G.K. Chesterton

There is a great difference between a good doctor and a bad one; yet very little between a good one and none at all.

Our doctor would never operate unless it was absolutely necessary. He was just that way. If he didn’t need the money, he wouldn’t lay a hand on you.

Herb Shriner

Those obsessed with health are not healthy; the first requisite of good health is a certain calculated carelessness about oneself.

Sydney J. Harris

Attention to health is the greatest hindrance to life.


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