I Love My Life! Is This True For You?Jul 15, 2018
Happiness. Many people’s lives revolve around the pursuit of happiness. A great many songs, movies, books and research articles are devoted to the subject and in spite of this, mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, OCD and PTSD are all on the rise. Along with mental health problems comes physical manifestations of stress such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, headaches, chronic pain, and addictions to shopping, gambling, and sex just to name a few. Thus, I wonder…is the way we in which we are pursuing happiness actually stressing us out?
I believe it is as widely accepted to say mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness as physical health is not merely the absence of disease. However, there is less consensus on defining the emotional well-being component of mental health that is influenced by culture and the definitions that stem from positive psychology and positive mindset do not take into account the full human experience which includes anger, sadness, being unwell and even unhappy. We can experience all the mental, emotional and physical states and still be in good mental health.
I really like the new definition of mental health proposed by Galderisi et al. (2015)1. The definition is as follows: “Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one's own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium.”
I like this definition because it includes all the elements that make up mental health (emotional, psychological and social well-being) that is inclusive of the universal values of most cultures. It also embraces the fact that life can and will get messy, be challenging, and that we are meant to experience all of our emotions including grief, anger, sadness, and fear. These are appropriate human emotions and are embraced in a life that is fully lived.
Achieving and maintaining good mental health, like good physical health is an active process that requires commitment and consistent applied actions to create a life that has value and meaning. When we create such a life, contentment and happiness emerge.
How do you feel well and live well so happiness can show up?
Become familiar with your emotions and understand their value and meaning. Learn ways such as meditation, cognitive behaviour therapy, and get professional help when needed to allow yourself to fully experience the emotions and the sponsoring thoughts that contribute to these emotions. Adjusting perspective and behaviours allows you to use emotions in a constructive way that serves you versus being hijacked by emotions and being a servant to your emotions.
Mistakes are miss-takes and inevitably they are going to happen. When we own, apologize for or repair our miss-takes, we learn and grow, practice courage and build self-confidence. Mistakes are a path to creating greater connection to yourself and others. They can open a door to deeper understanding, empathy and compassion. They teach us how to move forward by more clearly learning what works and what doesn’t work. When mistakes cannot be brought out and discussed openly and safely for fear of punishment, we open the door for the shame monster to grow. And nothing is more debilitating to our mental and physical health than shame. Create a high trust environment in your family for mistakes to be seen as guideposts providing valuable information to move forward, wiser and richer for the experiences.
Practice connecting habits with family, friends, and co-workers. There is a lot of research showing the correlation between social connections and health. Look for activities which help you to learn more about what makes each other tick, build trust and earn respect. Take a small step toward putting away devices and allowing yourself to be fully present with people. When you are texting on your phone and your children, partner, or friend is talking to you, your behaviour shouts out to that person you are not as important as this person I am texting. When this is reinforced over and over again, it erodes away one’s self esteem, sense of belonging and trust. Put your energy into building the relationships that truly matter to you, the people who encourage you to be your best, vibrant self.
Identify your personal strengths and good qualities. Self-awareness is knowledge and knowledge is power. Build on these strengths and live from them. To learn what your strengths and good qualities are make the conscious effort to pay attention to what people thank you for, compliment you on, and what they show appreciation for through hugs and smiles. Ask people you trust why they choose to be your friend. Focus and reflect on the everyday good things that are showing up in your life and observe what you contributed to these good things happening. Be grateful. Be more grateful. And when you are feeling low or worthless, pay attention and reflect on these good qualities and events, as a reminder of who you are. Seeing the good in yourself helps to develop a healthy concept of self.
Create a set of coping skills to deal with times when life throws you a curve ball. Expect it, because life happens and events such as death, divorce, job loss, illness, weddings, roof needing repairs, etc are a part of the fabric of life. These can be mentally and emotionally challenging times. Practicing mindfulness-based practices, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), meditation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), breath work, developing good sleep habits, yoga, tai chi, QiGong, exercising and building strong social networks while life is going rather smoothly will allow you deal with the internal and external stresses constructively.
Make time for hobbies and other leisure activities. Our brain loves to learn new things. Having a way to give creative expression is often a way to give expression to feelings and emotions that we cannot describe. Hobbies are a way to build a social network to increase connection. They are also a way to hone resiliency, the ability to bounce back from disappointment and to learn mistakes are miss-takes because you are more willing to take a risk, and realize if it doesn’t work out, you will find a way to make it work.
Cultivate realistic optimism. See setbacks as temporary. When something doesn’t work out, it is something in your perspective, understanding or behaviour that is not working. You are working just fine. You are not the ‘failure’, something in your thinking, or behaviour is what ‘failed’. Being optimistic or pessimistic, both are self-fulfilling prophecies, so choose the one which will allow life to have more ease and freedom from angst.
Choose to live a life worth living. Make sure you put the big rocks in your life first. These are the people, and experiences that give your life value and meaning. And make sure they are the things that have true value and meaning for you, not what you think you “should” value. Whenever we do this we feel fulfilled and life feels good. For example, someone may be in a job that they are not crazy about, but they appreciate the level of income it provides so they can pursue a hobby that is expensive and still meet basic needs easily. Their hobby is what makes life worth living. It is a big rock.
These strategies will help you learn and understand what your personal baseline is to maintain a healthy sense of self and give you ways to reset to a more positive, loving mindset and find more meaning and value in your life. Happiness will emerge as a result, as does a sense of feeling fulfilled. You don’t need to pursue happiness. What works better is creating the internal and external environment for it to emerge from within. When you do, you will be able to say no matter where you are on your journey, “I love my life!”
By: Pamyla Love
References:1 Galderisi, S. et al. (2015). Toward A New Definition of Mental Health. World Psychiatry, 14(2), 231-233. Published online 2015 Jun 4. doi: 10.1002/wps.20231