How Well-Being Got Stalled
We are all living a paradox that needs to be unraveled. At the level of the quantum body, existence is perfect. A flow of creative intelligence organizes everything without making any mistakes. There is no aging, sickness, or death. The quantum field ripples with vibrant energy that is inexhaustible. The paradox comes about when you shift your gaze to the everyday world, which is rife with imperfection. Aging, sickness, and death befall everyone. The DNA that controls every life process makes mistakes. People live with problems for which they can find no creative or intelligent solutions.
The solution to this paradox has eluded human beings for millennia, but consciousness keeps evolving and, as it evolves, partial solutions have appeared. Well-being involves creative solutions in more than one dimension of life.
Physical well-being exists if you are able to live a long life in good health.
Mental well-being exists if you retain clear, sharp thinking.
Psychological well-being exists if you are happy, of which a major component is being free of anxiety and depression.
Spiritual well-being exists if your life has higher purpose and meaning.
There are specialists in all these areas (doctors, psychotherapists, life coaches, ministers, priests, and rabbis), and none of them are physicists. The quantum revolution hasn’t reached the complex issue of well-being. A physicist has a right to say, “That’s not my job,” but the larger issue is that the connection between the quantum field and everyday life hasn’t been made.
In the preceding chapter we’ve made the connection intellectually. Our aim was to get rid of the question mark in a simple diagram.
Quantum Body--> ? --> Physical Body
Now you know that creative intelligence removes the question mark. The connection between the quantum body and the physical body is a flow of creative intelligence that sustains everything in existence. The quantum doesn’t inhabit a microscopic world totally apart from everyday life. The quantum field lies at the foundation of the world. With this big idea in mind, we need to erase another question mark.
Perfection--> ? --> Imperfection
If the quantum world runs perfectly at the level of quarks, electrons, atoms, and molecules, what happened to create the imperfections of everyday existence? We can divide the question into the major parts of well-being.
The baseline for physical well-being is life span. For centuries this was a gloomy subject (a famous quotation from the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes held that life in the state of nature was “nasty, brutish, and short”). Modern life span has greatly improved on Nature. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American male in 1960 could expect to live 66.6 years; by 2015 this had increased to 77 years. For women the jump went from 73.1 years to 81.7 years.
The pandemic reversed this trend, reducing the average life span from 79 to 77–78 years, but life span as a raw number isn’t all that useful. During the pandemic, American health span—the period of life spent in good health without chronic disease or disability—continued to increase. By 2019 the average health span had increased to 66 years. Yet from a different viewpoint that’s a very discouraging number. It implies that more than a decade of chronic disease or disability will be endured before a person dies.
In fact, health span faces all kinds of obstacles. The biggest is the gap between white, educated, well-to-do Americans and those who do not have these advantages. Next comes modern medicine, ironically, which can keep chronically ill people alive longer than ever. A dramatic instance is the chance of dying from a stroke. Between 1975 and 2019 deaths from strokes in America declined dramatically. For women, 88 stroke deaths per 100,000 decreased to 31; for men the decrease went from 112 to 39.
Unfortunately, being kept alive after suffering a stroke doesn’t mean that your health span has improved. Only 10 percent of people fully recover from a stroke (almost always from a mild stoke). With proper rehabilitation treatment, improvements will show up in more patients than before. Around 25 percent have only minor impairments and 40 percent have moderate impairments that require special care, which can be expensive and difficult for both patients and caregivers.
It is theorized that life span could feasibly reach age ninety-five, and right now the elderly are the fastest-growing sector of the population. This gives rise to a terrible vision of a crippled and demented population of seniors. Already many households find themselves taking care of Alzheimer’s patients who have nowhere else to go. One study estimates that taking care of someone with dementia reduces the caregiver’s life span by five to eight years.
To put it briefly, the gap between life span and health span is enormous. Physical well-being has run into a dead end. You are trapped in a life-span lottery that determines who will age healthily in a random, unpredictable fashion.
The normal state of mental well-being is a clear mind that thinks sharply. What people fear as they age is two great enemies: memory loss and dementia. This is a case where fear has outstripped reality. After age sixty-five, about 40 percent of Americans experience some memory loss, and this is typically minor enough so that everyday life goes on normally. More optimistic research holds that 80 percent of the elderly essentially haven’t suffered meaningful memory loss.
Rates of dementia are marginally declining. The good news is that the rates are much lower than one might gather from popular media. The World Health Organization estimates that only 5–8 percent of people over sixty-five live with dementia, and almost three-quarters of those are over seventy-five. American estimates seem to be worse, but these figures are probably due to better measurements. Around 10 percent of Americans over sixty-five live with Alzheimer’s.
The perception that we live in troubling times isn’t wrong. The Gallup Organization, which has done worldwide polling on how happy people are, found in 2022 that there was more unhappiness, worry, dissatisfaction, and mental struggle than ever before in its research. The lockdown period of the pandemic sharply increased everyone’s stress. One result was a rise in divorces and domestic abuse. There were also increases in depression and anxiety, but the rise and fall of those numbers is misleading.
Whether in the best of times or the worst of times, depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels already. There is no cure for either disorder, especially in chronic cases (mild bouts of depression tend to improve on their own). The only recourse, when it comes to mainstream therapeutic options, is to prescribe drugs that alleviate the symptoms. Couch therapy can bring about lasting improvements but is too time-consuming and expensive for any but the most privileged. Literally billions of dollars are being thrown at an insoluble problem just to put a better face on it. In cases of mild to moderate depression, for example, the leading antidepressants struggle to do better than placebos.
Psychology is complex, and one can toss out statistics that don’t help the situation. Nearly one in five American adults live with mental illness, but by other estimates more than twice that number have some kind of psychological problem and should seek help. The psychotherapy community says that 75 percent of people who go into therapy receive some benefit, but a somewhat notorious study showed that people on the waiting list to see a psychiatrist improve more than when they actually see one.
Even the baseline for normal happiness is deeply in doubt. The study of human psychology followed a medical model for a long time, meaning that the focus was on sickness and how to relieve it. Only in recent decades has the field of positive psychology emerged, which looks at how to optimize happiness. But there is no consensus except perhaps the gloomy one that happiness is difficult to achieve and temporary once you do achieve it.
People are very bad at predicting what will make them happy in the future. “If I only had X” is unreliable, whether X is a baby, more money, a better job, or the perfect spouse. Even when these objects of desire are attained, people don’t experience the boost in happiness that they expected, and sometimes not at all. Being the parent of a newborn baby is one of life’s most stressful experiences for the first year. One-third of lottery winners eventually declare bankruptcy and 70 percent go broke. The burden of winning a huge windfall often leads to a diagnosable condition known as Sudden Wealth Syndrome. Its symptoms include depression, paranoia, social isolation, uncertainty, and shock. In the worst cases, the person suffers an identity crisis. The answer to the question “Who am I?” is a shock to the system when you suddenly find yourself rich.
In short, happiness is an age-old mystery that modern life hasn’t solved and that modern stress has made worse.