Well that’s a bold question! And one that I don’t actually have the answer to!
Expecting more? Good, because I do actually have something more to say on the topic!
I don’t have a single pervasive answer because that question is entirely contextual. What constitutes good mental health for one person, will be completely different for another. Take for example cultures that focus on the individual, and other cultures that focus on the community. Is good mental health Deontological (abiding by a set of informed and generally agreed upon principals) or Utilitarian (aiming to be of the greatest benefit to the greater number of people)? See, it’s complicated!
You will undoubtably have your own idea of what good mental health means to you. And that’s perfect! Don’t assume that your idea of good mental health will be the same as the person sat across from you, or standing next to you. They are unlikely to share your exact perspectives, experiences, thoughts, hopes and dreams. We’re all unique, and that’s wonderful! There’s no reason to want to change it!
At times that can make it difficult to see eye to eye, that’s for sure! But at the same time, it is our differences that challenge our beliefs and self worth. It is the clash against our expected norms that challenge us to change, and with change, comes fresh perspective. And with fresh perspective, comes understanding. So I’m all for it! Go forth and diversify!
This is however one universal truth which I keep coming back to. And that is that good mental health, whatever your perspective on what that means, is, is achievable through repeated practice and work. It’s a bit like exercise!
Over the years, if you don’t keep up with exercise, it gets harder and harder to get and stay fit, and your body seems to become harder and harder to live with. Literally! All those aches and pains start to creep in, you can’t get yourself fired up quite like you could when you were younger, and at the end of the day, you’re just plain exhausted!
Well those are all signs of getting older… and being unfit!
I for one, don’t like exercise very much. I generally don’t feel any sense of accomplishment for doing it, instead feeling absolutely wrecked for having tried! It’s been a life long battle for me to stay within the boundaries of somewhat fit and I perpetually have a long way to go.
So to draw an analogy with mental health here, I had to work at getting into a good habit!
Thankfully, I’m good when it comes to deciding to do something, and then doing it! Taking action is not my weakness… the physical sensation of exercise, is! So I started small, very small. I set myself a routine that would have so little impact on my life that it was bearable. Just enough to say that I was exercising, without receiving any perceivable physical benefit whatsoever.
But the mightiest of things, start small! Little by little as my strength and stamina improved, I nudged the exercise up. Again by the smallest of margins. Just enough to make a change, without it necessarily feeling any different. And certainly not enough to make me want to quit or give up.
So little by little, I’ve forced my ageing body into a routine that is healthy and physically rewarding. I still don’t enjoy the exercise and look for literally any distraction from the act of doing it, but the benefits to my health and wellbeing are noticeably tremendous. In that sense I feel the process has been worthwhile.
And so it is with mental health. There are no magic bullets. There are no promised or guaranteed outcomes. There is only your determination to reach a state of “better” and the constant application of tiny amounts of change. Pushing ever forward to reaching a point where those tiny shifts amount to life changing outcomes. It’s not something that happens overnight.
In all things, there is an underlying reason why – a raison d’être. The truth at the core which is often shrouded from us. When we ask ourselves why we do certain things, we will often reply with answers like “because we should”, “because it’s good”, “because we ought to”. But none of these answers give us the truth of what we’re really feeling.
Let me ask you this! Why try to tackle mental health problems?
I have my reasons as do you! My reasons stem from a desire to help others. I’m genuinely interested in offering some of my time on this Earth to reducing the stress and strains of life, for others. It ultimately brings me satisfaction to do so and fulfils my ideas of self worth. If I help others, perceivable so, then I am fulfilled and satisfied with that aspect of my personality and my hopes, wants, needs and desires in this regard!
Another answer could be more personal, such as, because I need to be more present for my family. Or because I waste so much time bring depressed or lingering with dark thoughts. My relationships are strained, I’m afraid to go out and socialise, I lack confidence, I’m uncomfortable being in my own body. The potential answers are infinite!
It may seem trite to continue to ask yourself “why”. But I find that digging ever deeper into the reasons behind your choices really does reveal some staggering self truth!
Why do I exercise? I obviously dislike it and it doesn’t make me feel good, per-say.
But look a little deeper and discover that I need more energy for my family. I need to be young again whilst my family is young. Go deeper again and I need to feel that I’ve fulfilled my role as a father, to the best of my ability. That means living with minimal regret, making the most of the time available to me, staving off feelings of exhaustion and tiredness in favour of memory making and living a full and energetic life.
Go deeper still and it turns out that I possess a concern that I may not be able to accomplish this. So I sacrifice my time to something I don’t enjoy, to be able to maximise the time doing something I value so highly.
That satisfies my feelings of self worth and staves off feelings of regret and missed opportunity.
It has absolutely nothing to do with exercise. And it never did! In fact, the exercise is not even a factor in the equation, merely a function of achieving my goals.
And so it is with mental health. Whatever your ideal is, and you have every right to make your own assessment of what this is (within legal and ethical limits of course), it is not what you have to do to achieve it that matters, it is the underlying reason why you want to achieve it that will drive you and make it stick!
Habit is formed by understanding the reason at the core.
Enjoying good mental health will enable you.
It is up to you to discover what it is you want to enable!
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