This is the first in a series of articles on Positive Psychology. I have written a longer, more referenced article on the subject which you can find here. To get the content hot off the press, sign up at the email link on the right column of this page or at my Facebook page. You can also search my archived content for other Positive Psychology articles by using the related subject tabs at the bottom of the article.
Quick. What are the first words that come to mind when you see the phrase “Mental Health?” Now be honest (And no judgment allowed!) . Words like “Crazy” or “Sick” or “Patient” or “ill” may be prominent.
Next, what comes to mind when you see the phrase, “Physical Health?” Words like “Health” or “Fitness” or “Body” or “Pain” may present themselves.
Why the difference? Why do automatically think that Mental Health is a negative term that describes a lack of health in our mind or our emotions… yet when we think of Physical Health, we more naturally describe a more complete experience?
“Mental health is not reserved for the crazy, for the ill, for the scientist or for the Psychologist.”
If you are interested, try this social experiment. Ooh, this is gonna be fun! The next time you are with someone you know, tell them that you are working on your mental health. Watch how they react. Don’t worry if the other person asks what you mean by working on your mental health. You should celebrate, you are part of a revolution that is changing how we think about our minds.
Mental health is not reserved for the crazy, for the ill, for the scientist or for the Psychologist. I believe that every one of us are body/mind/spirit (That’s you and me and even your cranky neighbor Helmut). We can be healthy or we may have diminished health in any of those areas.
Unexpectedly, even the US army agrees. General George Casey, in Martin Seligman’s recent Positive Psychology book, Flourish, is emphatic about the subject (p. 127). “I want to create an army that is just as psychologically fit as it is physically fit.” If you want to be Army tough, don’t just do a boot camp at 6am… it may also be time to flex some mental muscle.
When I shop for food, I look at the nutritional labels. I have never studied nutrition in school and I failed Chemistry. But I understand the words sodium, sugar, fiber and protein. Most people today are aware of what these words mean and how they effect each of us. You have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” This is only partially true. What is more true is this,
“You are what you think about when you are eating.”
We are very comfortable considering our physical intake… what about our mental intake? Our bodies need food and we have labels that help us make decisions about what we eat. (If we choose to do so. See my other article on food choices here). We have labels for our food, so why don’t we have mental nutrition labels? You can think of your own examples, but I have a few that I like:
- Labels on emails from toxic people that can result in a bad case of emotional indigestion
- Warnings about gossip that only leads to a case of verbal halitosis
- Disclaimers on fears that keep us from making decisions
- Cautions about the negative effects of avoiding risks or difficult conversations
Health is not just for someone else. You have a right to be healthy. It takes awareness and it takes some work. We have to be willing to laugh at ourselves and take some risks. We will have read the labels and know the numbers:
- Health: the scale and the labels.
- Financial: the bills and the balances.
- Employment: our skills and our strengths.
- Relationships: how much time we need alone and with other people, how to give and take, and how to be vulnerable.
- Mind and emotions: our mental diet – how we think about ourselves, about other people and about our lives.
You have mental wealth. I hope you are investing yours wisely, because you are richer than you think.
P.S. If you want to do that experiment, ask your friend how they invest their mental wealth. Just for fun.
Keep it real.