Salutogenesis – an old and neglected word


The word salutogenesis comes from the Latin salus (meaning health) and the Greek genesis (meaning origin). The word caught my eye in an article by Nigel Crisp, in Prospect Magazine,  How Aristotle Can Teach Us  to Build a Better Society:

There is a long (but often neglected) western tradition of interest in salutogenesis, the origins of health, which is concerned with understanding the causes of health as opposed to pathogenesis, the origins of disease. This is in some ways the precursor to what is today called “social prescribing,” an approach which sees clinicians prescribe gardening, swimming, singing and other activities instead of (only)pharmaceuticals, making use of the health-creating benefits of each. This is not about prevention of disease but the creation of health—the causes of health not the causes of disease. It takes the positive, not the negative approach to creating the conditions for people to be healthy.

Nigel Crisp

I had not heard of Nigel Crisp so I looked him up and stumbled on this introduction at Harvard:

Lord Crisp is an independent crossbencher in the House of Lords, where he speaks mainly on issues of international health and development. Lord Crisp was chief executive of the National Health Service in England between 2000 and 2006, and permanent secretary at the UK Department of Health. The National Health Service is the largest health organization in the world…Previously he had been Chief Executive of the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital NHS Trust, one of the UK’s leading academic medical centers. Lord Crisp chairs Sightsavers International—a charity which promotes quality of opportunity for disabled people in the developing world; is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement; a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Harvard School of Public Health; an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Health-creating activities always pique my interest. As you know from reading my blog these are the kinds of things I love to promote. The non-medical things we can do to support our well-being in conjunction with our medical treatments.  Furthermore, I naturally gravitate to studies of what works rather than what doesn’t work. I confess the article sent me sailing down the rabbit hole to Crisp’s most recent book Health is Made at Home and Hospitals Are for Repairs. (It arrived today.)

Up Our Chances

It seems to me, in life, with all of its difficulties, joys, and sorrows, health and otherwise,  focusing on what we can do to enhance our daily lives is our best bet. It’s why playing an active role in our own illness is the first guideline of Living Well with Illness.  We can’t get along without medicine but medicine needs our active engagement too. Whether we are talking about cancer, heart disease, or mental health when we do things that are health-creating we up our chances of reducing unwanted side effects and improving our condition.

I don’t use the word prevent because it easily becomes a blaming word. It implies we can actually prevent X if we do y and z. And since I know so many people who did do y and z and still got X, I no longer use the word. I absolutely believe, however, that we can reduce our risks when we engage in health-creating activities. For myself, I experience an improvement in the quality of my everyday life when I move my body, get enough sleep and eat reasonably well. Not to mention the many creative activities that absorb and relax me/us.

And I observe that we can’t wait for the perfect time. There will never be time left over nor a time when conditions are perfect for us to implement some life-giving opportunities. We need to take charge of ourselves and figure out what makes our lives better. And the important thing is to do it even while life is throwing us curve balls. By now, you know I am never talking about utopian visions of how to live. Rather I am talking about the messy, stressful, sometimes dysfunctional and ordinary and amazing lives that we all have. And working with that. Changing what can be changed. Creating joyful moments. Learning something you have longed to do.


Noticing the things you do that make you feel better, is a good place to start. And with things as they are in your life, taking action to do the something you can do. Only you can figure this out. Take a step back from yourself and see what is working. Who are the humans in your life who fill you up rather than drain you? You may want to make more time to keep the company of those who are health-producing for you. Laughing is a sure sign.

I am convinced that we are all doing the best we can, with what we know, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  And we may need a tiny nudge, now and then to enjoy new possibilities.

Blessing – by  Carrie Newcomer on

May you wake with a sense of play,
An exultation of the possible.
May you rest without guilt,
Satisfied at the end of a day well done.
May all the rough edges be smoothed,
If to smooth is to heal,
And the edges be left rough,
When the unpolished is more true
And infinitely more interesting.
May you wear your years like a well-tailored coat
Or a brave sassy scarf.
May every year yet to come:
Be one more bright button
Sewn on a hat you wear at a tilt.
May the friendships you’ve sown
Grown tall as summer corn.
And the things you’ve left behind,
Rest quietly in the unchangeable past.
May you embrace this day,
Not just as any old day,
But as this day.
Your day.
Held in trust
By you,
In a singular place,
Called now.


1:) A snippet from a beautiful book for children and adults called The Blue Hour by author Isabelle Simler.

2:) Health-creating activities are often small pleasures. Here is a lovely 4-minute video from The School of Life in London called Why Small Pleasures Are a Big Deal

3:) A hundred thank-yous for stopping by here. I feel like the luckiest person every Wednesday – another thing I do that does not feel like work and revives my spirits. Let’s sing while there’s voice left. Warmest wishes, Trudy


10 replies
  1. Carol Ingells
    Carol Ingells says:

    Thank you once again, Trudy. I am a great lover of
    Carrie Newcomer, her talents as a musician and poet, and her self as a beautiful person inside and out. I hosted her for a couple of days in Lansing a few years ago. She was thoroughly lovely and inspirational.

  2. Darby
    Darby says:

    Thank you Trudy, since I recently joined your blog, I am never disappointed in your topics and conversations. I too have difficulty with the way the word “prevent” is used.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you Darby. I understand why people use the word but for me I find it gives a false sense of control and it easily becomes a judgement. So nice to have you here reading my blog. Thank you for your words.

  3. Janice
    Janice says:

    Of course you sought out Crisp and his positive approach to health, a kindred spirit. I look forward to hearing about his book from you. And thank you for Carrie’s Blessing poem which I love. xoxox

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Janice: thanks for your thumbs up. Since you actually live in the same city as me I will happily loan you the book. With appreciation for your continual support, Trudy

  4. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    What a wonderful, uplifting post. Looking forward to hearing your take on the newly arrived book.
    Lovely, heartfelt poem by Carrie.
    Thank you, Trudy.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Kathryn:
      It is really a policy book and yet interesting and easy to read. I will let you know as I have just skimmed through it. I am so impressed with Nigel Crisp. Glad you liked the poem. Carrie is a relatively new poet songwriter for me. Thank you for your note. Best wishes, Trudy


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