Bodily health seems to be a good candidate for ultimate happiness. Every person desires to be in good health. It is a passion for modern Americans to stay physically healthy and extend their lives for as long as possible. After all, you’ve heard the saying, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything!”
Listen to these figures on American healthcare expenditures provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 1970, spending on healthcare was 7.2% of the GDP, or $356 per resident. In 2007, spending on healthcare was about 16% of the GDP. That equates to about $2.2 trillion, or just under $7500 per US resident. Based on current trends, it is projected that in 2016, health care spending will be over $4 trillion, or 19.6% of the GDP.
There is no doubt that many Americans are also interested in keeping their bodies fit. Home exercise equipment sales were around $4 billion in 2002. We spend tens of billions of dollars per year on diet products to keep weight off.
It seems that Americans will go to great lengths to prolong their lives and to keep their bodies healthy, so perhaps bodily health is what makes us ultimately happy.
I think we should concede that bodily health is indeed a component of happiness. After all, a person in extreme pain or lacking certain body functionality is going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to be happy.
One of the primary missions of Jesus, while He was on earth, was to heal people of their bodily illnesses. He healed lepers, the blind, and the lame. He even brought Lazarus back from the dead. If bodily health wasn’t important, then Jesus wouldn’t have wasted His time healing people.
Likewise, in the book of Genesis, we are reminded that our bodies reflect the image of God. We are composed of a mind-body unity. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 6:19-20 that our bodies are important. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
It seems obvious that our bodily health is more important than wealth, honor, fame, or power. After all, without your health, none of those things can be enjoyed.
But I don’t think we can say that bodily health is what brings ultimate happiness. First, it seems clear that humans can experience far greater happiness than animals. As Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft quips, “What ape can fall in love, or weep with joy at a symphony?” Yet, there are animals that exceed human beings in certain respects. The cheetah is faster than the human, sea turtles live longer, and gorillas are stronger. So if happiness consists in bodily health, these animals would be happier than humans, but that is ridiculous.
Second, the ultimate purpose of a thing cannot be its mere survival. The captain of a ship is not tasked with merely preserving the ship. The captain is meant to sail the ship, as that’s what the ship was created for. If the survival of the ship was his ultimate purpose, then he would never leave the port! Likewise, the ultimate purpose of a human being cannot just be to live as long as possible. There must be more.
Jesus believed that the soul was more important than the body. He said “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28). This is exactly what the disciples understood AFTER the resurrection. This band of frightened men became the greatest missionary force in world history because they were no longer afraid of those who could kill the body. They were willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel.
The body is meant to serve the soul. The body is like a horse, and the soul is its rider. Jesus felt so strongly about the soul that He sacrificed His body at the cross to preserve our souls. Bodily health, then, cannot be the purpose of life. Greater is the health of the soul.