Spirituality and Health Choices
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman are two economists devoted to answering the question, "Why do people make the choices they do?" They delineated several cognitive biases, such as framing effect, which attempted to explain a person's non-rational behavior. Tversky and Kahneman's theory was a giant leap forward over older theories which saw people as machine-like.
For example, Tversky and Kahneman posited that when people are satisfied with their health, they are risk aversive. People are more frightened of losing something and will not take risks even if there is a great probability for gain. This explains why a smoker who has no known health problems continues to smoke. The smoker believes any change is a risk and will not take that risk unless their health satisfaction changes. This makes intuitive sense. I have seen many smokers finally quit after a spot has been found on their lungs.
However, many people change behaviors without a change in health status. A 2013 Gallup poll said that only 5% of smokers who quit did so for health reasons. 48% who successfully quit did so, because they just decided it was time (Newport, 2013). Where did the impulse come from and how did the impulse to make such a change sustain itself?
I now make this assertion—such change comes about because of spirituality. By definition, God or the higher power provides motivation from a source that is above physical and mental sources. Spirituality is not just something we do on church on Sunday but a source of motivation.
Others may say we just don't understand enough YET to explain such changes. I would offer a different question. Suppose spirituality is true, completely true. There is some form of power greater than ourselves that affects health behaviors. Then it is completely possible that some people stopped smoking because of spirituality and not for any other reason. If this is true, then how can we use it as health professionals to make health changes?
I know the first step. We have to talk to our patients about spirituality. We must be unafraid to explore this topic and advise patients to use spirituality and meditation when we give them care. I would like to hear from you about this. How do you use spirituality in your practice?
Newport, F (2013) Most U.S. Smokers Want to Quit, Have Tried Multiple Times, Gallup. Retrieved on Aug 3, 2016 from: http://www.gallup.com/poll/163763/smokers-quit-tried-multiple-times.aspx