Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Zia Ali

Kindness – a radical elixir for our future health

‘Kindness’, like the word ‘Love’ and ‘Compassion’, is an often misunderstood word, or perhaps it’s only a partially understood word.  Rather than considering kindness as a kind of luxury or ideal personality trait in people, I contend that kindness is one of the core facets of being a human being. It therefore seems a worthwhile enquiry to consider the quality of kindness as integral to our health and well-being. “There are good reasons for understanding kindness to be a natural predisposition, part of what counts in being human. The word ‘kind’ has the same etymological roots as ‘kin’, ‘kindred’ (family) and ‘kind’ (‘type’). This is suggestive of a natural relationship of kindness between members of the same family, group or species. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (gives the first definition of ‘kindly’ as ‘existing or occurring according to the laws of nature’, thus implying that kindness is natural capacity” (1)

We also have the word ‘kinship’ deriving from the same root, and kinship implies a social connection and belonging, a sense of people being valued and respected. During my childhood and adolescence, I had several operations and anxious hospital visits. Some were upsetting, but a few were not. The ones that were not all shared a commonality: a doctor or nurse treated me with kindness. It only took a moment, just a reassurance, asking me how I was doing. They told me clearly what my diagnosis was, what they were going to do, how much they knew and didn’t know, and what I needed to do afterwards to recover well. This represents exemplary and fundamental professional practice, yet on the occasions when I didn’t receive this ‘kindness’, I found the experience of surgery upsetting and even traumatising. Quite simply, when I was treated with dignity and respect, I felt calm, safe and cared for – and I recovered well.

In John Ballatt’s book, ‘Intelligent Kindness: Reforming the Culture of Healthcare’ (2),  a series of interviews with patients about ‘ what do they really want from our doctors the testimonies arrived at these conclusions: patients wanted doctors to be kind, offer hope and certainty, provides relief from suffering, and to be available at short notice. Notice that patients didn’t ask the doctor to lie about their condition. They wanted ‘hope and certainty.’ The quality of kindness does not require additional time; it simply requires an awareness that the relationship between human beings is paramount. Our Future Health is about making this kindness and kinship thrive in our daily lives. We need it when we are critically ill for sure, but more importantly our wellbeing comes from the connections and belonging we create with each other. And it costs nothing extra and demands no more time either.

  1. Kindness in pedagogical practice and academic life, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Volume 31, Issue 2, 2010
  2. Intelligent Kindness: reforming the culture of healthcare, John Ballatt & Penelope Campling, RCPsych Publications, 2011

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Angeline Koh

Are you afraid of dying?

In Asia, it’s taboo to talk about death. The superstitious believe it brings bad luck. But I learned,
“if not now, when?”
My younger sister passed away at 37. For twenty long years, Cynthia battled with Lupus, a blood
disorder. As a family, we wrestled with issues of life and death more frequently than I’d like to
remember. During the last 11 days of her life, I dropped everything I was doing to be with her.
I asked her, “Are you afraid (of dying)?” She said, “No, I am afraid of living.”
Cynthia had come to terms with death. There was no more reason to live on. All her organs had
failed. She knew that she would only be a burden to us. She had made peace with God. We
cleaned up any unsettled accounts we had with each other. We had heart-to-heart talks, like the
many we had on her good days between each health crisis.
I saw Cynthia go through seasons of depression. In the absence of health, limited activities and
social life, she eventually learned to give thanks for good days when she could go out, meet
friends, watch a movie, enjoy a good meal, play with her dog, chat long hours on the phone.
One day, I took her to the hospital because she had one of her Lupus attacks. We had to wait a
long time for her to be admitted because there were no beds available. When she couldn’t take
it any more, she prayed, “God please give me a bed.”
It wasn’t long after that that the nurse said, “There’s a bed available now.” While I took care of
the registration, the nurse wheeled her in to her ward.
The lady on the next bed asked her, “Aren’t you afraid?”
She said, “Of what?”
“The person who occupied your bed just passed away.”
To which my sister said, “God, I know I asked you for a bed, but your really didn’t have to go that
I currently live with my fun-loving 83-year-old mother. I am grateful she is enjoying good health,
albeit the typical aches and pains of someone in their senior years. We learn (and still are
learning) not to demand that life or anyone owes us anything. We learn the power of
forgiveness. We receive each day with gratitude. Good health gives us the freedom to enjoy
many things. Life doesn’t stop in the absence of health. A forgiving and grateful heart is good
medicine. Yes, mum and I do talk about death, but mostly we talk about life and living.
You can watch my digital story tribute to her here.

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Brooke Hessler

Playing the Edge


I stand in tree pose, Vrksasana, balancing uncertainly at first: right leg rooting my foot to the ground, left foot pressed into my right thigh, hands reaching to the sky, body swaying as the prairie wind sweeps through my backyard. I wobble and panic, my throat contracts, my abdomen clutches, my toes stretch apart, claw the earth; my mind notices these things, reminds me to breathe. I inhale and exhale and continue to sway. I hear birds chirping in the hedge, traffic rushing on the distant freeway, my dog rustling through the grass. The sun warms my face; I shine.


Or perhaps I stumble and start again.


In yoga the swaying and stumbling are important. We call it “playing the edge” —acknowledging whatever might be challenging your stability: a strong wind, an anxious thought, a tired muscle, an unfamiliar experience—and maintaining your pose as well as you can, observing your body and mind’s responses with interest but without judgment.


So much of what we can learn from yoga arises from that willingness to place ourselves (not just our bodies) in positions that can bring both tension and liberation. In some ways each pose, each asana, is a little memoir, a pantomime about our relationship to the world, our manner of living. To a passerby Tadasana, mountain pose, is imperceptible from simply standing erect. What makes this pose yoga is intentionality.  The yogi positions her feet carefully, noting the placement of bone over bone: tibia above ankle, femur above patella, up through skull upon neck above spine. She brings awareness to her stability, her gaze, her breath. Some muscles are held tight, others released. She attunes the stance to the intention of that day’s practice, which itself may have a specific theme or narrative structure with each pose chosen as an opportunity to embody strength, or radiance, or connectedness to the earth.


As we ponder our future health and happiness, yoga’s gift is the practice of deep awareness to our ever-changing bodies and ever-changing lives. We accept where we are at each moment, then play with what is possible, understanding that even in discomfort we are perfect just as we are.


Brooke Hessler, Ph.D.

Professor of Writing, Prairie Yogi

Oklahoma City, OK, USA

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Jeannette Newall

Future health who knows but future happiness I sincerely hope so personally

Are health and happiness linked?

More and more appears to be expected from our health services as medicine makes vast progress. Are we in danger of equating health and happiness to mean the ideal?

Happiness can be found in the most tiny things; the smile of the carer as they attend to your personal needs.

The touch of a friend as they visit. The act of giving and seeing the pleasure received, none of these depend on being healthy.

To be healthy is a wonderful bonus in life. A bonus we take for granted for so long until reaching the age when the body starts its decline and wears out.

The older we get the more we seem to expect from the NHS but it appears the services once offered especially community based ones, are in decline.

The community midwife, the district nurse, the mental health nurse, of thirty years ago offered the link between the person requiring help and the help available to them. With this link being eroded it appears the individual is required to source their own information more and more.

We depend on others offering reassurance and giving to us their knowledge and expertise. Do we expect more than any organization, be it the NHS or the not for profit organisations that have emerged.

Can we choose the level of our own dependency? Or is resting solely on the statuary bodies I have the ability still (just!) to reach out for help when needed but I am aware many many of my generation are not able do to this. How many sit in their homes in ill health and unhappiness? Isolated behind doors that were once opened by the community staff regularly visiting.

Fractured families must mean more and more people will find themselves isolated from help and each other.

Personally I consider that as long as I am acknowledged as a person, shown compassion, offered physical and metaphorical hand holding then health and happiness  will be linked into my future, however long or short that might be

I have posed many questions and have very few answers

I have been fortunate in being able to reach and receive help when I needed it.

Will this level of care be available to all in the future?

It is not just about money – it is about the will of all people to push for the future health and happiness of our young, elderly and unwell.

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Caroline Pakel

My future health is rooted in how much I care about myself, today, now. And when I think about how I care about myself today, the word that lights up in front of my brain is “vegetables” – yeah, especially the green looking ones, and yeah, it comes up with a very bright, green halo. And well, I can see you smiling reading this. OK, I guess “yoga” comes right behind it – in a bright, luminous light this time – but yoga will really need to wait for its turn another time. This is show time for green vegetables. And I would like to tell you why.

Any green vegetable makes me smile. I know it loves me and wants me healthy. The thing is that I have to care about me in the first place to eat it. And in truth, that is not always the case. It’s difficult to think and remember that I matter, that I need to care about me. And every time I eat them – those green vegetables – I have noticed how things start changing in me, how my mind starts humming and how my heart starts bobbing along their lovely beats. The truth is that without vegetables, I feel ugly, and lonely.

Caring for me is the challenge. And when I talk about it with others, I realise that it is a challenge that many of us share. Caring for oneself is not easy. Especially when no one was there to show you how much you mattered every day – or every week, or well, every month… OK, I’ll stop here. It’s not easy to hug oneself when no one before has really had the time or the concern to hug you, with deep love and respect, and when it’s not your birthday or Father Christmas’ day. I keep thinking that maybe they just didn’t know about green vegetables.

So the future of my health and happiness is in my ability to eat vegetables daily – yeah, I bet you got it, green ones especially! And it also means that it is the future of the health and happiness of others around me. Because when I care about myself, that I eat (green) vegetables, and that I feel good in my body, my heart and my mind, something else happens.

What happens is that I want others to eat green vegetables too. And when they can’t or are not sure, I just want to share my green vegetables with them. Because I want them to know that they matter too. And I want their mind to also start humming and their heart to also bob along their lovely beats. Because I know that without vegetables, they probably feel ugly and lonely, just like me.

So, the future of our health and happiness is in a garden of vegetables – yeah, sorry, green vegetables. Maybe a garden grown and shared by all, because we all care and we know that every one of us matters.

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Sue Spencer

In your mind’s eye what does our future health and happiness look like, sound like, feel like?

I believe that human connection is at the core of a successful and sustainable health care system. It is all too easy to focus on tasks and jobs to do, to malign health care practitioners as uncaring automatons but it takes courage and commitment to focus on the person who needs the health care intervention.

If we remind ourselves each day that we are all human and that we need connections but that is also complex and challenging then that might be OK

At the beginning of a consultation the GP takes 10 secs to draw breath and look the patient in the eye. To acknowledge the difficulties and then listen, really listen to what is being asked for. We find ourselves rushing to solutions, seeking pills to respite, tests to run, referrals to send off. What if we just listened a bit more? What if we had a conversation and explored all the issues instead of limiting ourselves to the illness or symptoms. Let’s connect with human beings with all their edges and ruffles. Smooth going is for cowards,

What if managers and leaders listened a bit more to their colleagues, instead of rushing headlong to change and making people feel restless and undervalued. What if we just spent a bit more time understanding behaviours and assumptions?

I believe in person centred, humanistic care but delivering that ideal is not easy nor should it ignore health care practitioners. They need valuing and understanding – I don’t think we can have one without the other.

I took the challenge of returning to health care after nearly 20 years in higher education. My principle need was to have more direct connection with patients, carers and families. As a champion of service user involvement in higher education I had become disillusioned with the rhetoric of health care policy and knew I needed to put myself nearer the front line.

I have found it enormously challenging, needing to prove myself to both nurses and managers but my touchstone is person centred care. Each time I have my feathers ruffled and feel like having a tantrum because nobody understands me I am return to that focus. Connect with the people around me and stop mind reading and comparing myself with others

What if I am the last person a relative speaks to before their loved one died? What if I am the last person to acknowledge the difficulties we face in end of life care? It might be seen as easier not to face these challenges, walk passed the relatives with a chirrpy greeting and being busy. What if instead you stop and acknowledge the difficulties – not seek to solve it just let sorrow and grief, anger, misunderstandings into the room.

What if?

I want everyone to admit their vulnerabilities and acknowledge each of us has a responsibility to do what we can do. We might not be able to solve problems, sort out things or stop people dying BUT we can all be human and connect.

I remind myself with this poem


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

Some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,

translation by Coleman Barks


How would you love it to be?

Our Future Health & Happiness- an essay by Jayne Cox

My vision of a bright caring future

Writing from the heart, that’s how I feel about writing today and I’d like to thank you Andy for the invitation. It’s taken longer than 30 minutes but every minute feels worth it.

My hopes and dreams for our future health and happiness is so clear in my minds eye I could touch it. It has things like time, empathy and seeing the provision of training in such things and the use of language being as important as a diagnosis and the practical care.

I’m a huge fan of words and how we use them, I’m no academic I just really believe that our words can harm or heal. I see the evidence each and every day.

Imagine this future where we all sit not just in a place of much appreciated expertise but in a place of being flesh and blood, how different an experience could we make?

I see kindness first and foremost, a professional who thinks if this were my loved one or me. To reach this bright future the professionals would be supported and given that gift of time.

In our bright future I see a greater understanding of mental health. I see us speaking about it and not changing the subject. I see the provision of help available for all and the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all.

I’d love people to be at the centre of healthcare, not numbers or stats. People are the patients who not only know that the help is out there but feel safe and trusting and empowered to help themselves.

So in my future happiness in health it’s all about the ‘P.’ Not patients or professionals but what is at the core, the People.

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by Joan Pons Laplana

My vision for the future.

Our National Health Service is at breaking point.

NHS is going through a tough moment. We live in on a time that we are reminded constantly that we need to work more efficiently and effectively  to do more with less, they are asking us to go the extra mile on a daily basis but unless the frontline staff feels supported and engaged, the organisations will fail to do it. When you ask the frontline staff how they feel, a common word keeps repeating: Stress! When the stress goes up, the passion automatically goes down and the ability to go the extra mile disappear.


With increasing financial pressures and soaring demand, the NHS is changing. Questions over quality, services, technology and funding make it hard to imagine what the NHS might look like in 10 years’ time.

For me there is one solution to make sure that the NHS continue to be the best health system in the world. We need to turn the NHS upside down and empower frontline staff and patients. If we really want to deliver patient centred care we need to give more control to them.

Critical to the future of the NHS, is that the public takes greater responsibility for its own health and wellbeing. Us as health professionals we must support them. Patients need to stop being passive consumers of care and become active and leading partners in their own health. Individual responsibility and lifestyle choices are as important to the success of the system as the quality or quantity of care provided.

In a healthy and happy future, patients are actively involved in decisions about their treatment, co-designing solutions with increased choice over the type of care that they receive.

Patient’s choice should be enhanced. Our role as a health workers needs to change from a provider to a facilitator, and support the individual on its choices. Our role will be to provide the public with sufficient and detailed information (on treatments and providers) to help make informed decisions about the care they receive. We will be their ‘Advocates’ within the system to help them navigate their options and make ‘good’ decision.

A big cultural change need to happen between the health care professionals. Most of our focus is in trying to return people onto a healthy state. Most of us become doctors, nurses or physiotherapist to help to make people better. This mentality needs to change. A big emphasis need to be put in prevention. Our role needs to move from saviours to prevent illness happening on the first place. A lot of us are not ready. We don’t need more health workers trying to be heroes. It’s a battle that we will never going to win because we are design to die. Our mentality should shift into thinking how to maintain people healthy on their community for as long as possible. It’s like  you tell a fireman that suddenly his main job is not to extinguish fires but to prevent fires happening in the first place. Resistance is unavoidable, but as my grandmother used to say: prevention is cheaper than the cure.

Another key point for a happy future is that all of us will make a better used of the technology. Technology plays a key role in a ‘healthy state’ NHS, both for patients and the public, and for the system. We are living on a 21st century society where communication is fast and accessible but our NHS still using technology from 50 years ago. Primary Care and Hospitals will be connected and patients will have only one journey and all the notes will be on a cloud where anybody will be able to access electronically. Patients will have the ownership of their notes.

In my vision the community will be key in supporting their people in staying healthy.

By empowering the people and creating stronger links with their neighbours and community something magic happens. Trust emerges and when people have trust they become more confident, and they are able to take charge of their lives knowing that somebody in their community will watch their back.

In my happy future we need to embrace the best of the present returning to some values of the past.

Our Future Health & Happiness – an essay by John Walsh


“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.” William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The time of this writing is winter. Snow and ice cover the ground and chill fills the air. Yet whatever the season there can be writing and dreaming. What are my dreams for health and the service that bears that name – the National Health Service? I have many. I will share one dream and it is a dream that involves us all whether we are patients, carers or staff ( or all three ).

In June 1908 there was an extraordinary event in Russia. There was a massive explosion of energy in the sky. It is reckoned to be the largest impact event in recorded history. We are not sure what it was. Some say a comet hit the area.  Or a meteorite, a black hole passing through the earth or anti matter falling to earth. There are a number of explanations offered. Whatever the cause whatever hit the area was incredibly powerful. 80 million trees are reported to have been knocked down and the afterglow could be seen in certain parts of  the European night sky. It has been estimated it was a 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a massive explosion of energy which impacted the area for miles and miles. The release of this dynamic force changed the landscape.

You may be asking what this has to do with my dream. The connection is that human beings have tremendous potential and potency and yet this often lies dormant.  We do not see it or know how to release it. If we look at a service like the NHS we see incredible gifts, qualities and skills. We find intelligence, compassion, care, creativity and innovative vision. I do not believe our problem is addition – adding things to our services. It is nutrition  – how we grow the tremendous powers and energies we have. The Tunguska event shows what happens when a mighty explosion of energy and dynamic force happens. If we could realise and release our inner energies and goodness I think we would have a Tunguska moment in the NHS. It wouldn’t flatten trees. It would transform our services and the way we think and do health. It would create the best cultures and care possible. It would mean a personal and professional growth of people as people.

What might this look like? There are three aspects of it which would light up the sky of health and wellbeing. The first is that health would be personal. People would cease to be numbers or problems. We would see through the problem to the person. That person we would see as a unique and special person full of possibility. We would call them by their names and our focus would be to create the most positive relationship and loving care we could. The second aspect would be that this care would be holistic. It would cater to the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social needs of the person. The person would be at the centre and management of their own care.  It would work in respectful and learning ways in partnership with carers, family, friends,statutory, voluntary and faith sectors. The last aspect is that it would engender hope. Hope is the seeing of a tomorrow. The culture, conversations and engagement would be filled with hope and possibility despite the problems. Deep care and support would run through all this.

The amazing thing about this dream is that it is already happening around us. There are signs and seeds all across our services and country. I have had the immense privilege of meeting and working with its custodians and practitioners. Nurses, doctors, patients, carers, support workers, chaplains, admin staff, students and many more. All with a passion. All with a hope and vision. These people give me hope and inspire me to go on. They are the prophets and hearts of a new future. So I continue to dream. The seeds and shoots are already showing. Unlike Shakespeare this dream is not rare or past our comprehension. Who knows? One day I may open my eyes from the dream state and find the whole landscape filled with these beautiful things.

Our future health and happiness- an essay by Jo Tait

When my fiercely independent mum, at 86, had a fall and broke both her wrists, my sister and I took the chance to talk with her about how life might be for her as she got older. What sort of support would she want, did she want to find an easier place to live, how would she help us feel less anxious about her. None of her answers to these questions quite satisfied us and she clearly didn’t want to think about it and even less to involve us. I ‘find her ‘not wanting to be a bother’ trait the most infuriating, but perhaps it’s one she shares with many women of her generation, and maybe it’s something that our society imposes on the old.

But then my sister asked the smart question: what is the one thing you most want out of life, now and in the future?

‘To still be useful’, was the answer. ‘Even if that’s just sitting at the end of the phone listening to someone’s problem’.

Of course, that’s what we were wanting, as well. To be useful to her. Was she telling us to listen well to her needs and wishes? And is there, behind that plea, a silent story of fear that we were only caring from a sense of duty? Whatever the other, hidden stories, we can only stay present and continue to listen.

In our mum’s case, we saw that listening IS the most important way to help her as well as her way to continue making a contribution in the world. In the wider world, time to listen is a rare commodity – if doctors had more of that resource, maybe our health services would be less stretched. Listening well, beyond what people say, listening to the story their heart needs to tell, is the practice of a lifetime. Listening well, some say, is such a useful thing to learn that it could be the key to world peace.

For me, the future belongs to my children and beyond them, my grandchildren. Their complex lives are stretched to the limit by goals and targets, school selection and career prospects, obligations and expectations for themselves and from each other. As a granny, I’ve sometimes been pulled into that world as part of my wish to be useful. If I listen to what my children say, they need me to give my time to cover the cracks in their personal busyness. ‘Just collect the kids from school, make sure they do their homework and give them their tea,’ If I listen to my grandchildren, I think they want me to be around while they amuse themselves, ready to tell a story or rub a sore place. I only need to listen to their stories, learn and watch in awe as they grow into the people they will become.

Feeling useful is vital to my health and happiness – maybe even a vital thread in our collective wellbeing. Usefulness at my stage of life means listening well to myself, my friends and my family. That’s all.