Paying Us Money to Love Ourselves?

I’m still shaking my head in disbelief that I’ll be getting a $15 gift card from my insurance company for taking the “Be Happy” course that it’s now offering online. I’m a Medicare recipient, and have another insurer, AARP United Health Care, for my Part B coverage. All I can conclude is that the health insurance people must have figured out that it’s cheaper for them to pay me to buy a book or two from Amazon with my gift card than to pay for the surgeries I may need if I don’t get the happiness thing right.

A while ago, United Health Care sent me a flyer in the mail about its Renew Rewards program and I’d thought of it as junk mail until I decided to clear out my inbox the other day. I called the number on the flyer and spoke with an “advocate” who walked me through the program. I was aware that there would be a gift card for my annual check-up because I’d gotten a card last year, but I didn’t know about the other money I was leaving on the table.

It seems I’ll get a gift card for $25 when I have a breast cancer screening and another $25 gift card when I have a colon cancer screening. (The colon screening is not the kind we think of when we think “colonoscopy”, but the kind where you send a stool sample to a lab and the analysis happens there.) I’ll get a $15 gift card for my annual check-up, again, and another $15 gift card for completing three out of five “bonus” health activities.

That’s where the “Be Happy” course comes in. The course is part of a menu of health activities that include getting a flu shot, doing some form of exercise for 20 days, doing some form of anti-stress activity for 20 days, going “green” or paperless with the insurer, and taking one of the online wellness courses it offers — one of them is “Be Happy”.

All told, that’s $80 in gift cards! And, the advocate I spoke with listed a bunch of places where I can spend the money, including Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Home Depot, Whole Foods, Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon, and others. I picked Amazon because it now sells some of everything and $80 will go a long way.

Has it come to this? Are insurance companies really offering us money to take care of ourselves? Do we need such incentives for self-care?

Self-care is way up there in the virtues of The Wise Boudoir. By now, women our age know that we can’t treat others right unless we treat ourselves right. Self-care means loving ourselves and valuing ourselves in ways we may not have done when we were younger. Now that we’re over 50, we know how important self-care is.

I spent the last several days reading a book called, Stress Less: The New Science that Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and the Mind, by Thea Singer, and I became a new kind of student about my body. Singer talks a lot about the wear-and-tear of stress on our bodies and urges us to think about the usual suspects – diet, exercise, sleep, emotional health, social support – in a new way.

Because she approaches the topic of stress as an important factor in the aging process, she had my full attention. She especially had my attention when she talked about the extent to which belly fat (I’ve got plenty of that) represents a stress response that stores fat around the internal organs of the body. Not good. Stress might be invisible when we’re going through it, but it shows up on our bodies eventually. (Witness the head full of gray hair that President Obama now has.)

I’ve not been diligent about self-care, and I have my own body stories to attest to that. The good news according to Singer’s book is that it’s not too late to reverse the damage we’ve done. We can start now to take care of our bodies in a better way. We can eat, exercise, sleep, and think like we really love ourselves. We can have emotional, mental and social behaviors that add aliveness to our bodies and years to our lives.

The kind of self-care for which the insurance companies pay modest incentives is the self-care that might keep us out of the hospital. But, the kind of self-care that goes deeper than that is the loving care for self that comes from within and keeps us vibrant, energetic and constantly renewed by life itself.

And, that’s worth a lot more than $80, isn’t it?

Written by Liv Wright