WHAT'S NORMAL CAN MAKE YOU SICK
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
What is your favorite New Year's resolution? Social psychologist,
Eric Fromm once wrote, "Just because millions of people seem to share
the same forms of pathology it does not make them sane." Is what we
see as "normal" daily living in fact, making us crazy. If you engage
in the normal way of life for the majority of Americans, are you
risking your health? Is one of your New Year's resolutions to
"normalize" your life?
Newspaper columnist, Ellen Goodman writes, "Normal is getting dressed
in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car
that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you
need so you can pay for the clothes, the car, and the house that you
leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it." She asserts
that such a lifestyle is the norm for most Americans.
When the Surgeon General of the U.S. reports that 85 percent of the
illnesses for which we seek medical treatment are "related to
lifestyle," then is the American way of life making us sick? Dr. Paul
Pearsall believes it is. In his book, Toxic Success, he writes,
"Eating too much, exercising too little, consuming at levels that
boggle the mind, and increased disconnection from people and nature,
have become the normal or usual ways of the successful American way of
life, but are these behaviors healthy for our planet and us? Does
going along with this way of living and view of success really result
in the sweet success we long for, or is it a form of commonly accepted
cultural pathology that is polluting our planet and poisoning our
I want to review some of the specifics about what is normal for the
vast majority of us. Here are some activities most of us have come to
accept as normal:
---We overeat and under-exercise. More than 65 percent of Americans
are obese. We take in thousands of calories more than we need, and we
burn a lot fewer that we ingest.
---We increase our debt load in order to purchase more than we need.
The average American carries almost $8,000 in credit card debt. Given
the rate of interest on plastic debt, most of us pay twice as much
that the original price for our material possessions.
---We shop and watch television a lot more than we interact with our
children. The average American spends six hours a week shopping;
36-48 hours a week watching TV; and only forty minutes per week
playing with their children.
---We neglect our primary relationship. 60-65 percent of marriages
do not survive. The divorce rate is twice what it was 40 years ago.
The average American couple spends less than 12 minutes per day
talking with one another, and then the topic of conversation is
focused on problems with the kids, with money, with themselves and
little or no time focusing on creating the relationship they both
would like to have.
---We spend more money on acquiring "stuff" than we do on education.
Americans spend approximately $80 billion a year on watches and
jewelry and $65 billion on higher education. We have twice as many
shopping centers and malls as we have high schools.
---We build larger and larger houses. They remain empty of people
and filled with that "stuff" that we think we need to be happy. One
ad asks us to bring our unneeded stuff to market so the "understuffed"
can buy it (probably with credit cards). Comedian, George Carlin
cynically describes our homes as, "just a pile of stuff with a cover
Many years ago, psychologist, Abraham Maslow, wrote, "Certainly it
seems more and more clear that what we call 'normal' in psychology is
really a psychopathology of the average...so widely spread that we
don't even notice it." I hope you have the courage to not be normal.
A cancer patient once remarked, "Trying to be normal almost killed me.
The only way to survive in this crazy world is to be willing to be
weird enough not to fit into it."
Perhaps one of our New Year's resolutions needs to be resolving to be
calm, peaceful, loving, content, and connected with those we love.
How weird is that? Living like that is definitely not normal for most
Post a Followup