Monday, July 01, 2013

Positive Mental Health: What is it? The Glass is Half Full

I recently applied to be considered for the position of President of the Meadows Foundation Mental Health Institute in Dallas. As a part my due diligence in the application process, I had a very illuminating conversation with Dr. Lynda Foster of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, a highly regarded agency which advocates for better mental health care and provides funds for research, policy development, and treatment programs in Texas. Despite the name of the Foundation, it occurred to me afterward, our entire discussion was about "mental illness" not "mental health".

This  revelation follows on the heels of an invited speech I recently gave to Contact Dallas at the urging of Amy Stewart where I talked about "Characteristics of Healthy Leaders", a speech I repeated to the North Dallas Bar in June.  The "top 10 list" (my apologies to David Letterman) of things that healthy leaders do actually applies to everyone, not just leaders, so I decided to include it here as well.

So here it is, my list of top 10 characteristics of mentally healthy people:

1. Healthy people can identify and articulate their own feelings.

  • Daniel Goleman (the Emotional Intelligence guy) and a host of others now recognize that this one of the most important abilities of a successful person. 
  • fMRI research has revealed that once a feeling is labeled with a word, the chaos in the brain ceases and order is restored; centers of the brain which generate logical, focused, problem solving can begin to operate.
2. Healthy people make time to be alone.
  • They make room in their schedules for quiet time every day.
  • They consciously contemplate the Divine (pray or meditate)
  • They take a sabbatical (not a vacation) regularly
3. Healthy people have a personal vision, mission, and purpose for their lives.
  • Vision creates hope that lasts through crises
  • Purpose is a reason for being beyond roles and making money.
  • Together, these create meaning.
  • Dr. Martin Seligman talks about 5 factors critical to flourishing (PERMA):
    • Positive emotion
    • Engagement
    • Relationships
    • Meaning
    • Accomplishment
4. Healthy people serve others.
  • Service (outside of work) provides big picture perspective.
  • Research in 131 countries found that people experience a sense of well being from giving that exceeds that from receiving.
5. Healthy people have friends who care about them.
  • Relationships are a protection against depression, anxiety, aging, and illness.
  • Being able to ACCEPT help from a close friend is a strong measure of mental health.
6.  Healthy people make music a part of their lives.
  • Research proves that music stimulates the brain in ways that nothing else can.
  • "Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything" Plato (I am listening to music as I write this)
7. Healthy people learn continuously.
  • Neuroscience research has demonstrated that new learning creates new growth of neurons in the brain; the "trees" in your brain add new branches when you learn something new.
  • Healthy people consciously add new skills to their "bucket list" and then learn how to do them throughout life.
8. Healthy people stay active.
  • Walk, run, dance, golf, whatever... healthy people do something active every day.
  • Their is no "mind-body" dichotomy; physical activity is critical to mental health.
9. Healthy people have fun.
  • Benefits of laughter are well documented by neuroscience research: it increases dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter), decreases cortisol (the stress neurotransmitter), and improves overall health.
10. Healthy people are positive and grateful; grateful people are healthy.
  • Gratitude is a choice; healthy people have learned it.
  • Gratitude inoculates against depression and anxiety
  • Gratitude is contagious
A quick exercise from Dr. Seligman to increase your mental health:

1. Every day, write down 3 good things that happened to you, and 
2. What made them good.

This simple exercise has proven to increase feelings of well-being 3 months after doing it for only a week! Healthy people make gratitude a part of their everyday life. Try it!

Be sure to check out my latest book, now available on Amazon and Kindle. When ALL Else Fails: Minimizing the Damage, Before, During, and After Divorce is filled with tips and tools when you are trying to decide what to do and how to do it.

Here's the link to Amazon:

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