At a time when mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are increasing it’s important that we try to protect ourselves by monitoring our mental wellbeing. After all, some things in life hold up the promise of happiness but deliver very little. Other things, as simple as they are, give us deeper and more permanent satisfaction and these are the things we need to know more about.
Over the past few years there has been an upward trend in information about the discovery of happiness. Books are written on it and self-appointed experts tell us how we might find it. There is nothing wrong with the sentiment, but it presupposes that happiness is ‘out there’ and can be found if you look hard enough. Really we’ve always known that happiness comes from within. The down side is that it can take effort to draw out, so it’s always more seductive to think of happiness as a goal that can be reached, in the way an athlete might cross the finish line.
As first world countries continue in their prosperity we have begun to understand that wealth and mental wellbeing don’t correspond. Expensive vacations, cars, clothing and the like are nice things but they have relatively short-lived effects. So, to boost our mental wellbeing we need to turn our attention to matters more durable and desirable. Who, for example, doesn’t want to feel self-confident, happy, content and fully engaged with life? I would have thought these are central to most people’s wishes, but in order to attain such things we must first have an interest in ourselves and be prepared to make some changes.
Mental wellbeing is a form of personal investment; the more you put in the more you get back. But we can condense the things that really count into a short checklist, which is what I’ve done here. As you work down the list, the task is simply to consider your own investment in each of the areas and what you might do to improve things:
Brain use: When was the last time you learned a new skill, tried out a different language, or picked up a new musical instrument? The detail isn’t as important as the principle. New learning promotes a sense of confidence and achievement. An added bonus is that keeping your brain active may reduce the risk of later-life diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Awareness: these days it’s called mindfulness and it refers to you taking notice of what’s going on around you rather than operating in a haze. Do you actually reflect on your own thoughts and feelings, your body, the world around you? If you do, that’s good because it can have a very positive effect about the way you view yourself and how things can change.
Giving: I recently wrote about the very positive gains to be had from acts of selflessness. Giving isn’t necessarily about parting with your cash or possessions, it’s about doing things for which you don’t anticipate any personal gain. Kind words, a smile, a listening ear are as important in their own way as, say, volunteer work.
Relationships: no person is an island and connecting with others, whether your family, friends, work colleagues or others tends to pay dividends. Sure it can be hard work at times, but connecting protects us from isolation and the dividends and sometimes unexpected spin-offs can be very positive.
Movement: anyone who follows my posts knows this old chestnut is going to appear. Exercise, in any form, is so important to happiness and mental wellbeing. I would say that it’s almost impossible to consider mental wellbeing without considering your body. This is another personal investment and it really matters. What you put into your body, in terms of diet and exercise will have a profound effect on your mood.
So, how do you measure up? If you can keep these five balls in the air you’ll be doing yourself a lot of good. I wish you well in your endeavours.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.