The term “mental health” is often equated to “mental illness” – but it shouldn’t be. Health is sometimes defined as the absence of illness – but it isn’t. Healthiness is a whole state of being where personal growth, wellbeing, relatedness and authenticity are experienced and sustained. Last year, I started a seminar series teaching the truths, principles, goals and strategies to gain mental healthiness.
In this Mental Healthiness seminar, we cover a series of interconnected topics over our five weekly meetings. The first meeting provides an overview of healthiness and an introduction to how the mind works, looking at it from the perspective of brain functioning as well as how the different parts work together. We also learn about and practice mindfulness meditation, allowing us to become more proficient at using our whole brain. In the weeks that follow, we cover one topic each meeting, relating to the tagline to my blog and seminar: growth, wellbeing, relatedness and authenticity, while also learning relevant practices that apply these principles into everyday life. In the last session, in addition to learning about the value of authenticity, we whiteboard everything we’ve learned, visualizing how all the parts are not only connected, but how the interdependency naturally supports and enhances the other components of our mental healthiness. Lastly, we take all these learned truths and principles, the practices we’ve learned, and individually map out how to best integrate it all into a plan for a personally more meaningful life.
Here are some highlights:
How the Mind Works – There are differentiated parts of our brain, some of which we share in common with our lesser developed cohorts in the animal kingdom, and certain parts that are completely unique to being human. All parts are important for healthy brain functioning, but it is the development of the abilities of our prefrontal cortex (the uniquely human part) that allow us to optimize our mental healthiness. Some of these abilities are our ability to soothe our emotional states, control impulses, have self awareness, the ability to read the intentions of others, our overall sense of connectedness to people, make complex judgments through our intuition. In addition to growth in these areas, we can also train our mind to be more attuned to ourselves and exert more control over where we direct our mental energy. This is why mindful meditation improves our mental healthiness because we are specifically strengthening this ability to be more self aware and mentally flexible.
Personal Growth – This talk aims to answer the question “How do we change?” There are two ways in which a human being grows. One is developmental, relating to the naturally unfolding process predetermined in our DNA, intersecting with the environment in which we grow. The second is through learning, a more deliberate and self motivated process initiated by meaningful insights leading to real and permanent brain changes. Insight. Intention. Iteration. Integration. Once we can learn how to change, in the weeks that follow we answer the question – “what do we change?”
Wellbeing – The formula is simple. Happiness. Gratitude. Relationships. Balance. Integration. We learn some of the details of this formula through Positive Psychology. Whereas Psychology is the academic discipline that entails the scientific study of mental functions and behaviors, Positive Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior. See here, here and here. We also talk about what balance and integration looks like in everyday life.
Relatedness – There are two different ways in which we experience relatedness. The first way is intrapersonally – how the different parts of our mind and body relate within us, the experience of “me.” The second way is interpersonally – the way that we are connected and interact with others, the experience of “we.” These two forms of relatedness are closely intertwined, and the sum of both experiences create our authentic self. As Daniel Siegel would describe it, “mwe.” As Daniel Goleman would describe it, these are our Emotional and Social Intelligences. The good news is that we can become more intelligent and more integrated in these areas, and doing so increases our mental healthiness. See here and here.
Authenticity – I start and end the seminar talking about authenticity. The majority of the seminar establishes relevant truths in regards to our mental healthiness. This final talk addresses our beliefs. Our beliefs are formed when experiences and perceptions “make sense” and “feel right.” The verification of the authenticity of our beliefs happens when we also ask, “is it true?” Authenticity is experienced when the beliefs in our inner world align with the truths of the outer world. See here and here. Personal growth happens when these reliable truths transform our beliefs.
Week to week, not only do we learn the reliable truths behind these principles, we maintain a simultaneous focus on personal application. How can these principles become our own life goals and what broad and specific strategies can we employ today to move us closer to achieving them? The big picture is that in the process of integrating these truths and principles into our lives, these goals become our new “normal,” leading us to a more meaningful, gratifying life of mental healthiness.