Business school is a great time to set habits consistent with a successful, happy life. The Wharton curriculum certainly takes care of a significant portion of that; however, many aspects of setting these behaviors are yours to pursue or not.
According to Jeff Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, achieving a happy life requires pursuing physical and mental health with the same rigor one applies to the traditional pursuit of professional success.
Sachs, in a recent podcast, said, “We have the paradox that income per person rises in the United States, but happiness does not. And it’s not that that’s because humans are humans. It’s because the U.S. is falling behind other countries, because we are not pursuing dimensions of happiness that are extremely important: our physical health, the mental health in our community… And this is weighing down American well-being.”
Further, we know that long-term happiness, something most of us are (or should be) ultimately after, is predicated in part on the quality and depth of our relationships. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” That’s according to Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive studies of well-being in history.
Most of us inherently know these concepts to be true but find acting on them to be nearly impossible. How can ambitious people balance course load, professional development, group projects, and the myriad other responsibilities of a 1Y at Wharton while maintaining healthy and balanced lives?
I struggled with a similar question during my first week in my Naval Aviation squadron after joining them on deployment aboard the USS George Washington. My first week as a fully qualified Naval Flight Officer at sea was grueling, disorienting, and, by the end of the week, starting to take a toll. There was so much to do and learn, I felt, that I had no time to eat, sleep, exercise, or think.
Over Midnight Rations (MIDRATS), a mentor revealed a maxim to me that I try my best, often unsuccessfully, to live by. He said, “You need to take care of yourself or you are worthless to us out here. We need you well rested, well fed, and in shape. Those things are priority one for you. Sort that out and the rest will come.”
Taking care of your health does not require an MBA from Wharton, but will not happen by accident; it will require some effort and planning. I’ve outlined the following tips and tricks for implementing some of these things into your life that otherwise might fall out for the competing priorities at school. Take and apply what works for you, disregard what doesn’t.
This list is by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of other techniques and tactics that are just as good, if not better than, what’s included here. Whether you take this advice or come up with your own game plan, I’d just recommend making a plan. With the academic year and recruiting right around the corner, things are about to start moving pretty fast…
Make a plan to be healthy. Consider getting your grocery shopping done and knocking out meal preparation on Sunday. You’ll be psyched by mid-week when you don’t have time to cook, have a problem set due in the morning, and you’re hungry.
If cooking isn’t your thing, consider a meal delivery service like Snapkitchen or Kettlebell kitchen. These services will deliver some or all of your meals for the week to your doorstep. You can choose the specific meals, set some guidelines for what you like, or live dangerously and go with their recommendations. Either way, a service like this will help keep you eating healthy…most of the time.
If you do nothing else, decrease your sugar & processed food intake and drink more water. These simple hacks will improve your mental clarity, decrease inflammation, and help you avoid energy crashes.
With all that said, definitely crush a cheesesteak at Reading Terminal, a late burger at Monk’s, and as many of those Greek Lady gyros as you can get your hands on. They’re good and life is too short. Just try to make those the exception and not the rule.
Vitamins & Supplements
Philadelphia is great and all, but it’s not known for its abundance of sunlight in January so maybe a Vitamin D supplement could be a good call. You don’t need a cabinet full of vitamins, but a few important additions to your daily diet can make a big difference. I’ve found the products below to be super helpful.
As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor and I’d be bummed out if you sued me. The below recommendations come from personal research and should be vetted by a professional before use.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid (Fish Oil) is probably the biggest bang for the buck you’ll find. Fish oil provides improved cardiovascular health and function, improved lipid profiles (lower triglycerides), improved brain function and mental acuity, and powerful anti-inflammatory properties without harmful side effects like over the counter products.
B-Vitamins increase energy production and are neurotransmitter cofactors so they help improve our mood, and they help us detoxify. Take this supplement in the morning as the B-12 will keep you awake.
Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. It helps reduce inflammation and the risk of colon and breast cancer, while improving mood and upper respiratory health by aiding the fight against infections from viruses and other pathogens. It also allows the brain to release melatonin so we can fall asleep easier.
CBD possesses myriad medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-depressant qualities according to a 2013 review published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. I have been experimenting with CBD for both general wellness and help with sleep for the last year and have seen great results.
The daily formulation I use is a compound of CBD and other ingredients including B-Complex, ginseng, and selected terpenes that are beneficial for general health, inflammation, pain, focus and overall well-being. The other formulation I use is similar, but with ingredients meant to target stress and sleep.
I won’t belabor this point – we all know exercise is an important aspect of our physical and mental health. Exercise helps manage stress, sleep, and many other aspects of a healthy life. Most folks know they should do it, but making it happen is easier said than done. The competing priorities at Wharton can make this especially tough. The following techniques have helped me to maintain a decent exercise routine while balancing my priorities at school.
Schedule it! When I sit down to plan my week, I set a goal of a work out ≥ 4x per week. If you count the weekend, this should be doable. The most important piece of building near daily exercise into your routine is to make it non-negotiable. Do what you need to do to achieve that ≥ 4x or whatever your goal number is. If you make it a priority you’ll feel better and be ready for the grind. Even just 30 minutes is better than nothing!
Pay ahead! Loss aversion is a key tenet of behavioral economics. The idea is that we disproportionately weight losses relative to gains; once we have something, the idea of losing it is painful. You can use this fancy idea to help you get into the gym – pay in advance for your spin, yoga, CrossFit class or whatever it is you choose to do to stay in shape. You’ll find yourself skipping less and making good on your goals.
A good night’s sleep is probably the most important aspect of feeling good on a daily basis. Again, most people know this, but fail to act on it. Between the academic, professional, extra-curricular, and social commitments at Wharton, you’ll struggle to make decent sleep a part of your routine. A few all-nighters will happen, but, again, making these the exception to the rule will pay dividends.
If you have trouble sleeping, consider developing a nightly routine including black out blinds, a drop-dead-screens-off time, and a CBD or magnesium supplement. If you need help with this drop me a line and I’ll help you figure this out.
The data are clear that good relationships help fortify our bodies and brains against the stressors of everyday life. Additionally, they just make you happier. Which is good.
If you are here with a partner or you have a partner elsewhere, make the time during the week to include them in this experience. Wharton can be an all-encompassing bubble (in the best way) if you let it. Make the time to crack a beer, put down the MGEC problem set, and just enjoy your time at Wharton with your partner.
Make time for dinner with your friends, to call your parents, to connect with your pre-Wharton friends, and to make new friends over a citywide special (if you don’t know – ask). These relationships are important pieces of your long-term happiness, sense of success, and for all you utilitarian’s, likely the source of a job, recommendation, or investment in the future. At least once a week, make the time to go out to lunch or dinner with a friend and get to know them more deeply. You’ll be glad you did.
To wrap this thing up, I’m passionate about health and wellness because I’ve messed it up a lot! I’ve made all of the mistakes, but done my best to learn as much as I can and to make a commitment to living a healthy and happy life. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.
You are all incredible people. You’ll feel better and be better if you use part of your time at school to set positive patterns you can carry for the rest of your life. I’ve heard things don’t slow down after graduation…
If I can help you sort any of this out – let me know. I enjoy talking about this stuff and would love to help.
Finally, if you see me polishing off a second cheeseburger, out late at Bonner’s, or otherwise not practicing what I preach – leave me alone…I’m taking a mental health break.