A Healthy Attitude: Food for Thought

Amidst the sea of negativity that’s so common these days, healthy attitudes stand out like lighthouse beacons. Unfortunately they seem so distant.

In a society clouded by political rhetoric and lack of personal commitment, pervasive negativity is understandable. Most people simply aren’t convinced they have what it takes to make a difference. For many, the burdens of life seem unmanageable.

I suppose there are many reasons to justify negativity and apathy. The media provides us with shocking examples each day. A significant portion of the news is frankly appalling.

What message are we sending our children when a convicted drug lord is pardoned by the man entrusted with the well-being of our nation? Why should anyone believe that he or she can make a difference when one simply buys their way out jail with political favors? What does it take to get our society back on track?

While the last question seems like a homework assignment for a high school class, I fully realize that no two people would agree on a long-term plan. Yet I am convinced we need to agree on some foundational elements.
Perhaps, the most important one is healthy attitude.

According to Merriam-Webster, “attitude” is defined as “a position assumed for a specific purpose.” The implied purpose in this case is obvious, as the term, “healthy,” suggests an attitude that’s favorable or in the best interest for the well-being of the individual or society.

Yet the real question is, “What are the elements of a healthy attitude?”

Fortunately this issue has been explored extensively in the past by Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist and researcher. He related the concept of a healthy attitude to what he describes as Sense of Coherence (SOC): “a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring and dynamic feeling of confidence.”

His principle components include three basic elements: comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness. Essentially this translates into a belief that:

  1. stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable, and explicable
  2. resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these stimuli
  3. these demands are challenges worthy of investment and engagement.

Essentially Antonovsky proposed a survey tool that could predict how a person would likely respond to a given stressor. His SOC questionnaire has been utilized in thousands of studies that have correlated healthy attitudes with measurable outcomes.

Let’s spend a few minutes exploring the foundation of Antonovsky’s three basic building blocks.

Comprehensibility refers to whether or not what we perceive makes sense to us. Is the presenting information or situation ordered, consistent and clear, or is it chaotic, accidental, and unpredictable? Perceiving events as comprehensible does not suggest they are completely predictable.

Manageability refers to the way we perceive that the resources at our disposal can meet the demands posed by the situation. This does not mean that we necessarily control these resources. Control can rest with others such as family members, co-workers, medical professionals, or a Higher Power. Essentially manageability implies that we have what it takes to meet the challenge.

Meaningfulness refers to our degree of personal commitment. It is our emotional investment in life. Meaningfulness implies that what’s happening matters to us. Are the challenges posed by the situation worthy of our effort? Do we perceive the situation as a challenge or as a burden?

I personally find these collective insights highly valuable in predicting whether or not an individual is likely to succeed in the face of a significant challenge.

Let’s consider two individuals faced with a new diagnosis of diabetes. Assume for a moment that the first person sees the disease as a challenge which is comprehensible, manageable and worthy of personal commitment. The second person, however, does not. This individual views diabetes as totally unpredictable, is convinced that the resources do not exist to help control the symptoms, and ultimately has little sense of hope or willingness to take an active role in his/her disease management. Excluding unforeseen circumstances, who is more likely to succeed? Who has the healthy attitude?

While the health implications are obvious, Antonovsky’s model can also be applied to practically any scenario. Consider a work-related challenge for a moment. Do you see the issue as comprehensible, manageable and worthy of personal commitment? Or is it simply an incomprehensible, unmanageable burden unworthy of your personal investment?

By asking yourself these three basic questions, you can determine well in advance of any foreseeable outcome whether or not your attitude is healthy. More often then not, you’ll be correct – Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

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Written by Barry Bittman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021