Wellness: Why Bother?

Kelly Coffey

We’re all gonna die anyway, so what’s the point of eating well and exercising? (No, really.)

Ever made a room full of 17-year-old girls cry? I have!

Me Today (Don’t let the sweet look fool you)

I was wrapping up my talk at Smith College on how important it is to take care of your body in college – something I 100% did not do – when a hand went up.

Coffey in College pic

Me in College (2000)

“That was great, thank you,” said a gal in the first row. Like most of the folks in the room, she was an incoming student, and pain-in-the-ass smart. “As I’m sure you know, we’re all going to die. In the end, life is meaningless. What’s the point of putting in all the effort to be ‘well’?”

I stood there waiting for a someone to yell “KIDDING!” But they all just sat there.

They actually wanted an answer.


“Well, yeah,” I said. “Thanks for the reminder.”

They laughed a little, while I looked down at my shoes.

I’m gonna die, just like everyone else. Why not get wasted? Why not begin every day with a coffee roll from Dunkin’ Donuts? Why not two? Why not have sloppy, anonymous sex in parking lots? Why not give into every desire, make the most scintillating choice in every moment, die young, and leave an attractive corpse?


“Well, there’s a few reasons,” I said. “Eating well, exercising, and generally not abusing yourself means you’re more comfortable and able to do things like carry groceries.”

They nodded politely.

“Also, unless you’ve got a trust fund, acting on every impulse is apt to leave you riddled with disease, homeless, and smelling like hell.” They giggled (most of them, anyway – not the ones with trust funds).

I was tense, standing there, and I made myself relax a little.

Hang on, I know the answer.

“Why bother? The answer is the first minute,” I said, and I stood up straight, the way you do when you finally cut through the bullshit and get to the truth.

“Even if you sleep late, eventually every day begins, and in The First Minute of each day you have to face yourself. Day after day until you die you will wake up and remember. Memories of what you did the night before will bubble to the surface.

“Those memories will come with feelings. If you binged on ice cream or box wine or cocaine, that will be one of your first thoughts, and it will come with the weight of self-hate on your lungs and the deep bruise of shame in your gut.

“If you’re already not treating yourself well, those feelings may be subtle ‘cause you’re young and you think you have all the time in the world to turn things around. But, unless you practice treating yourself well, soon you’ll be in your 50s and you’ll wake up and the pain of that First Minute will be so intense that the day ahead will feel like a prison sentence.”

The room was quiet and still, save some sniffles. Ah, the pained whimper of real learning!

“BUT!” I said, (there’s always a but) “if you practice treating yourself well then, in your First Minute, you’ll remember that you met a goal. You’ll remember that you ate food that nourished you, and that you moved and played with the body you’re so lucky to have.

“Those positive memories will come with good feelings – with deep, meaningful pleasure. A sense of peace. Accomplishment. Rightness.

“Practice living with intention and treating yourself well. Bother to care for and about yourself and your body, and your First Minute will feel like a new beginning. Ignore your body’s needs, neglect yourself, or continue to justify not treating yourself well, and your First Minute will be torture.

“And here’s the thing – your First Minute is unavoidable. Even if you graduate and get rich, you can’t ever outsource your First Minute. You can’t hire someone to deal with it for you.

“Yes, you’re gonna die. We’re all gonna die. But until the hammer drops, you alone have to experience the First Minute of every single day of your life. We’re talking tens of thousands of times. Practicing wellness every day, or not, is what really makes life feel meaningful. Or not. Dying only happens once. Time-wise, relative to those thousands of First Minutes, dying is small potatoes.

When I wasn’t taking good care of myself, my first minutes were torture.

“I’ve spent years harming myself and years healing myself. I’ve had thousands of First Minutes that were torture and thousands that were good, and I can tell you that nothing has more of an impact on how we feel about just being alive.

“Compared to how you feel in your First Minutes, it doesn’t matter what degree you have or where you live or how many clubs you join. It doesn’t matter what you do for work or how much money you make or who you marry. It doesn’t matter how you look or where you work or what you wear. It doesn’t matter who you spend time with or what books you read or how you pray. It doesn’t even matter what you weigh or how old you are.”

I looked over at the professor who’d invited me to do the talk. She was smiling so hard I thought her face might break.

“Not to say that stuff has no impact on how you feel about life. Obviously, it does. But unless you treat yourself well and feel well, then it doesn’t matter how much good stuff you’ve got going on ‘cause it’ll all just feel like a fancy box that you live in and cry in and resent until you die.”

I let the last sentence land.

Then I said, “Any other questions?”

I got one more. Something about weight loss. That answer was much shorter.

I gave that talk almost 10 years ago. I still get emails from students who were there, saying that what they learned that day had more of an impact on them than anything they went on to learn in four years of college. They’re happier than they might’ve been otherwise, because they live and make choices with an eye toward feeling good in their next First Minute. 

Here’s to every single one of your remaining First Minutes, Love.

May they be good, and many.

Love, love, love-


This post was picked up by Men’s Health Magazine. It ran there on January 5, 2017, with the title “This is the Most Powerful Motivational Trick We’ve Ever Heard”
Showing 4 comments
  • Hilary

    Brilliant. Absolutely love this. I had a similar epiphany years ago when I was trying to think of a way to encourage a young friend to follow a better path than I had at her age. I realized that when I thought back on my life about the good times, my most cherished memories were tainted by the memories of the poor choices I had also made. I felt the joy of those memories, and simultaneously felt the sting of shame and guilt as I recalled “what else” was going on” then. I thought the consequences of my bad choices and self-destructive behavior would be temporary. They were not. It’s taken years to forgive myself and heal. Gratefully, I’m in a (mostly) fabulous place now, and have learned to truly value my life, but I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone. You put it so eloquently…”the first minute. ” I’ll remember that!

    PS…and the weight came off. Funny how that works.

    • Kelly Coffey

      It IS funny how that happens, isn’t it? It’s not easy to get to that good place, though. I’m sure you know that. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Hilary. Take good care of you!

  • Marjorie Ray

    Thank you for this post. A simple and profound thought, to live your life so that the first feeling in the morning is a good one. I’ve been on autopilot for awhile now and this post has me feeling motivated to take a better care of myself.

    • Kelly Coffey

      Marjorie, this is the first thing I’m reading online this morning, and you’ve inspired me, too. It’s simple – let’s keep it that way. I’m feeling good waking up this morning. How about you?

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