The never-ending tide of advertising and media hype about what you could own and buy, along with almost every governments obsession with “growing” the economy has made me think. Whilst economic growth and wanting things can be cool and perhaps necessary, why are we doing it and does it make us happy? In this article I consider how an approach to happiness and prosperity that looks at capability and function might be just what you are after and is in fact not a million miles away from the CrossFit model for fitness.

Over the centuries many wise folk have looked at concepts of happiness and well-being. The Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) produces the Better Life Index, which includes things such as income, housing, health and environment. It ranks Australia as the top place to live and Mexico at the bottom. The US sits in 7th place and Sweden and Denmark 2nd and 5th respectively.

So what you might think? We live in a society, which is very much dominated by the economy. It is led by people like Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund warning of “slower growth” after China shockwaves. In October Jack Lew, U.S. Treasury Secretary, told a conference in Peru that all countries need to “use all available policy tools” to boost global growth.

In the UK the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, recently said the UK needs to have a new work ethic. It must be more productive. Mr Hunt wants our children to study more and work harder than previous generations. I pause… I then look at my little Arthur (2 and a half years old and into bikes in a big way) and my little Dorothy (5 years old and crazy into fairies and princesses) and think “crikey, what kind of world am I bringing you up in? Less fun and imagination for you and more homework seems to be the order of the day.”

I am really pleased (I say with sarcasm) that Jack, Jeremy and Christine are saying these things but what does it mean to my family and me? As a parent I want my children to be happy. Is this productivity focus going to make them happy and prosperous?

What should I be doing to enable them to be happy and prosperous? Some researchers have highlighted a couple of ways of achieving prosperity which I will look at. Firstly, prosperity as “opulence” or having stuff. The other is prosperity as “utility” or satisfaction and sometimes looked at with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as this is a way of summing up all market exchanges.

Since 1950 real income per head (GDP per person) in the US has tripled but the percentage of people reporting themselves as happy has barely increased. People in Denmark and Sweden have lower income per head than the US but higher levels of happiness than the US. In fact in other studies countries such as Bhutan have very low levels of income per head and very high levels of happiness. Bhutan goes one step further and measures its citizen’s happiness with a Gross National Happiness measure. So we have a take home here. Happiness and prosperity cannot be just about income levels and the economy.

Perhaps it is about “stuff”? The more stuff you have the better you feel? Sure, go and buy a new computer or suit and you feel pretty terrific. If you already have 10 computers then the marginal happiness you get from one more would be pretty low. You might choose to give it to someone who needs one. That person would perhaps happily say “thank you”. What I am getting at here is that with “stuff” we can get the idea that sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is just more and plain greedy. Greedy is not the same as happiness.

So where does this leave us? The GfK NOP study showed that factors that influence how happy we are include:

  • Partner and family relationships – 47%
  • Health – 24%
  • A nice place to live – 8%
  • Money and finance – 7%
  • Spiritual life – 6%
  • Community and friends – 5%
  • Work – 2%
  • Don’t know/ other – 1%

I hope that many people will look at these and nod their heads in sage agreement. Seeing partners and family relationships along with health so high feels right to me. Seeing money and work lower bucks the trend of the Jack, Jeremy and Christine axis of productivity and growth. Please note that within this article I am not discussing or focusing on mental health and cognitive skills. That is a vast area and important to happiness.

So where does that leave us now with our quest for happiness? It leaves us with needing to find a new way of doing things. One option is to go for the prosperity is the capability to flourish approach. Amartya Sen, who came up with this approach in the 1980s, describes this as looking at how well people can function in any given context. Questions like “are you well nourished?” or “can you visit friends if you want to?” become important. Capability is queen and functional is the king (or vice versa). So what can this look like? Martha Nussbaum lists the central capabilities as:

  • Life and bodily health (living your full allotted years and doing so as well as you physically and physiologically can)
  • Bodily integrity (free from others inflicting themselves on you including assault and war)
  • Practical (having your own idea of your good life)
  • Affiliation (living with and toward others)
  • Play and control over ones environment (as it says)

In looking at this approach to happiness and prosperity it occurred to me that it resonated with something already important in my life. Something where the mantra is “Constantly varied high intensity functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.”- CrossFit

I am sure that CrossFit did not and would not purport to be the answer to all things and in no way am I saying it is. CrossFit is an approach to fitness and it works for some people. However, it can tick a number of boxes for the happiness and prosperity goal and these can easily be built into our lives.

When it comes to life and bodily health it seems pretty obvious that if you look after yourself and sort out your nutrition and exercise you will be capable to go about your life more easily. You will be able to function in a wider variety of situations than were you not healthy (playing with your kids or taking a walk in the countryside to see the beauty of nature) and this health would increase you happiness. A nice tick in the box for some fitness.

Being able to live with bodily integrity involves, at one end, living your life without people assaulting you (murder, rape, violence, war etc). However, living with bodily integrity can be subtler. Perhaps it can be about being in a place where you are not bullied. Where people don’t criticize you. Where when you have a problem society and the community is there to help you. CrossFit and the community approach get a massive tick.

“Practical reason” is crucial but requires you to do some thinking and self-examination. For Martin Luther King it was his “dream”. Without some sort of idea of the good life and your “dream” then where are you headed and where is the meaning? This is where you need to set some goals of which there are lots of different types and forms. They don’t need to be complex and might be along the lines of entering a fitness competition or doing Fran in less than 8 minutes.

Affiliation is a many splendid thing and will mean different things to different people. CrossFit folk will think of their box and their friends they do CrossFit with because the box is also known as an affiliate. Clever thinking Mr Glassman! However, affiliation is also about how you move and act in your community. It is about enabling others to have their capabilities met. What is important is that you get out there and participate.

The final point for Nussbaum is the capability to play and be able to control your environment. Play isn’t just zooming a plastic car around on the floor with a two year old (although for me that is often what it can be these days and I love and cherish it so much ☺), it is about being able to use your mind and body to do things that your good life directs you to. Play for me these days involves doing handstands and trying to learn how to swing around on Olympic gymnast rings. It is about having created a good life vision and some goals that is combined with all the other functional bits and getting to enjoy the who and what of your true self.

So where now? For me I am using the ideas of the capability to function as the model for my business and also my life. In business I am using it to express how my customers can prosper in meeting all of their happiness functions and also all of their capabilities in our new Box Break fitness holidays. For me this is all a virtuous circle of life. Spin the wheel and get movement. Stop spinning and you stay where you are. I have put this together in a diagram, which I hope captures fairly simply how the process can work.

The capability to function

The next time you are told to buy this and that or to work harder maybe stop and question why and instead develop your capability to function ☺

Ps My little Dorothy just said that what makes her happy is being with friends and family.


About Metcon

Metcon Media is headquartered in Southern California and is a media company dedicated to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle through functional training and proper nutrition.
Metcon Media’s functional fitness lifestyle specific agenda gives our readers a variety of training and nutrition related articles, podcasts and video from experts in the field on fitness and nutrition as well as other interviews including breaking fitness and nutritional news, product reviews and advice from certified coaches.

View All Posts