Positive Thinking for Good Mental Health
Picture the healthiest person you know. Maybe this person has buns of steel. Maybe this person has flawless skin or runs every day. Although she/he may be the perfect picture of physical health, is this person mentally healthy? And what is mental health?
My picture of perfect mental health is essentially like having my own personal fire engine. My fire engine is a mobile attack unit that is always with me. With it, I am ready to put out fires, large and small. On board, I have many tools like chain saws, portable pumps, hand tools, and drip torches that give me the ability to handle any situation. Most importantly, my fire engine, like mental health, must be maintained in tip-top, ready-for-action condition. However, maintaining mental health is not as simple as maintaining a fire engine. Instead of water, mental health requires a positive energy source. Instead of tools, mental health contains skills of resiliency and optimism. Instead of daily washing and waxing, mental health requires constant learning and discovering. And both mental health and fire engines need routine maintenance.
Every morning the fire engine is topped off with water. Without water, a fire engine cannot put out fires. Similarly, without the positive energy of hope, one will not have the courage and resiliency to face the fires of every day life. Jerome Groopman, MD, author of The Anatomy of Hope, once said, "Having hope won't necessarily beat the odds, but without hope you are lost. Without hope you have no direction to go in." Mental health requires hope, just like a fire engine requires water. You just have to keep the tank full.
Every morning the fire-fighting tools are inspected. One never knows when the chain saw or portable pump may be needed in an emergency. The skills of resiliency and optimism must also be kept ready at all times. One never knows when a death in the family will occur or when a job will be lost. Al Siebert, PhD, author of The Resiliency Advantage, wrote, "Your ability to resile over and over comes from allowing your mind, attitudes, feelings, values, skills, and unique nature to be different in every situation." As a firefighter, you never know what situation you will encounter on a particular day; thus, a variety of tools are carried on the fire engine. A mentally healthy individual also carries a variety of skills to cope with whatever life throws at him/her. One day, pro-active thoughts might be needed. Another day, flexible adaptability might be needed. Mental health requires many skills of resiliency and optimism, just like a fire engine requires many tools of the trade. You just need to keep the tools ready for action.
Every morning the fire engine is washed and waxed. Keeping the fire engine clean is not just a source of pride; this daily ritual keeps the firefighters familiar with the fire engine. In times of emergency, you have to know exactly where the drip-torch is or exactly where the breathing-apparatus is. Emergencies are not the time for learning and discovery. Maintaining mental health is also a constant process of learning and discovery in order to stay familiar with everything that might be needed in times of emergency when life turns up the heat. Through this process, new tools might be discovered. And new tools might be acquired. According to Dr. Siebert, "Laughing is an excellent sign that valuable real-life learning is occurring. An insight can be a delightful discovery and it can stay with you a long-time." Such an experience can give you a life-skill that might become valuable when a crisis arises. Mental health requires a commitment to learning and discovering life-skills, just like a fire engine requires a daily ritual of washing and waxing. You just need to stay familiar with your equipment.
Ultimately, your picture of perfect mental health may not be analogous to a fire engine. But if your tank is kept full of positive energy, if you have a variety of tools ready for action, and if you are constantly learning and discovering your own abilities to cope with life, then you can be the picture of perfect mental health, ready to extinguish any fires. That picture is worth a thousand words because as Dr. Seligman wrote in Learned Optimism, "one's own skills and actions (can solve many) emotional problems." The problem solving abilities of good mental health is yours to lose or gain. Mental health is ultimately yours to maintain like your own personal fire engine.