World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. The first step in this direction will be to understand what mental health really stands for and to be able to have an open hearted discussion about it. I believe the only real victims of mental health disorders are the ones who fail to talk about it.
Mental Health comprises psychological, social and emotional well-being. It is our ability to think, act or feel, how we process certain information and our reaction to circumstances in our lives. The World Health Organisation gives a very comprehensive insight on the disorders and actions undertaken for prevention and spreading awareness of the same, and I urge you to take a sneak peek before you read ahead. Only if we are aware of the gravity of the situation can we help ourselves and others.
While reading books such as Flourish by Martin Seligman and Stumbling Upon Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, I literally stumbled upon the idea of PERMA which is the formula for Happiness. Seligman, who is also known as the Father of Happiness, talks about positive psychology and how we can train our minds to be happy, also known as learned optimism.
PERMA stands for:
P- Positive Emotion
Our happiness is usually derived from activities we do that make us happy, relationships that bring joy, purpose and winning at something. Most humans have the tendency to be on what’s called a hedonic treadmill, which is basically the tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative incidents in our lives. By this I mean if our benchmark for happiness is buying a house or car, our happiness will be short lived after achieving that goal as we will set higher benchmarks for ourselves.
What very few of us are actually aware of is that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes and has little to do with our mental state, 10% is determined by external factors like our marriage, career, materialistic pleasures and 40% of our happiness is internal. Happiness is a state of being not a goal for the future. Happiness is Inward.
When we base our happiness on that car, that promotion or that person is when we give the remote of our lives in someone else’s hands. But true happiness comes from loving yourself and being mindful.
Sonja Lyubomirsky in her books The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness talks about factors that are actually responsible for 40 per cent long-term happiness and scientific studies that conclude the same. These are:
- Expressing gratitude
- Being kind
- Purpose/ Committing to goals
- Taking care of your body
She emphasises that since happiness is largely dependent on people themselves, the above factors are major contributors to happiness. Once happiness is attained, it can be made sustainable through PERMA as a habit.
Since happiness is a culmination of how we feel, what we think and how we process or react to a certain situation, it is, in my opinion, equally important to be vulnerable and accepting of our emotions and have the courage to deal with shame. DEAL. You need to deal to be able to heal.
Learned optimism is a process that begins with acceptance of our situation and the courage to be vulnerable. As Brene Brown often says, vulnerability is a precondition to being authentic, being present, living wholeheartedly, and making life more meaningful.
The first step for me towards being happy was to acknowledge that I was unhappy in the first place. I have always been a bright student with a double post-graduation degree and when I found myself resetting my career at 30, I went through depression, tried to drink to forget, had zero savings and I let my fears and failures define me. But now I know that I will try and I may fail but I will never fail at trying.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the global platform, Fuck Up Nights, which celebrates failures as a stepping stone to success. What is beautiful about such a platform is that it celebrates shortcomings, mistakes, and failures and by doing so, normalises it. It is ok to fail at something, it is ok to feel ashamed. It is ok to seek help. In fact it’s recommended.
I let external factors determine my happiness which led to discontentment and this is why I chose to share my story hoping that it would encourage others in need to seek help. To promote a healthy environment at work, I also started giving a day off every month to my employees as Mental Health Day.
As the Dalai Lama states in his book The Art of Happiness, “Happiness is not something readymade, it comes from your own actions.”
So walk into your story and own it, find courage in vulnerability and focus on inward happiness so that you can be more mindful, grateful and able to spread happiness around you.