Mental Health//

Does Happiness Indicate the Health of Your Mind Too?

What makes us happy? Is it money, love or something else? What if we get what we want, will that make us happy? Exploring all this and more.

Photo by KAL VISUALS/ Unsplash
Photo by KAL VISUALS/ Unsplash

Our lifestyle today and social pressures are responsible for this ongoing ‘epidemic’. No, I am not talking about COVID-19! The biggest epidemic we are facing in this century is that of mental health. 

As per the WHO, about 25 per cent of the world population will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Most of us relate mental health with happiness, but do you know that even though average happiness is high in modern society yet the mental disorders are at an all-time high? 

Let’s do a test. Think of a number: How much money do you need to be happy?  So what number or amount you thought? Now think again if you have that number would you really be happy? 

So what’s your answer, yes, no or maybe? 

Most of us are not satisfied or feel safe with how much we have. We feel if we have more money we will be more happy and that’s the reason we relentlessly do things which even though we don’t enjoy but feel it will get us more money, and eventually more happiness. And in this way our constant search for happiness goes on and on, very much like a dog trying to catch its own tail.

Have you heard about the phrase ‘money can’t buy happiness’? I don’t really know who wrote it but it is so true. I lived in Africa for some time and found many people who were financially poor were very happy, they simply enjoyed whatever little they had, whereas I found rich people though they were living a life of affluence and full of material comfort but intrinsically unhappy and they were constantly looking for something that would make them happy, be it money, relationship, possession, looks and more. 

We commonly mistake happiness for good mental health because it’s a common perception when we are happy, we cannot be sad or depressed.

It’s also true that people with basic comforts feel more happiness than people living in poverty. This phenomenon is prevalent equally in developing and developed nations. 

But then I asked myself, if money doesn’t make us happy then what does? Also, do I need to be happy all the time? 

Does happiness lead to good mental health?  Looking deeply I have found we use word happiness very loosely to such situations when we are high on emotions or its opposite to sadness. But we cannot stay high for most of the time. 

We commonly mistake happiness for good mental health because it’s a common perception when we are happy, we cannot be sad or depressed. Happiness is more of a temporary emotional state, that means a person who is happy at that very moment can also become sad or depressed the very next moment. 

That implies a good mental health is more important than to be just happier or richer? 

As per data from the WHO, developed nations are suffering more from mental health problems than the developing or under developed countries. 

During one of my online classes on Mindfulness, I asked how everyone was feeling. Lots of people replied good, okay, happy but when we started discussing, people came out openly and told how in these COVID-19 times they are feeling stressed and burnt out. 

Many of  us are unaware of our mental health condition, and only when it starts to impact our physical health or our job do we realise how important it is to keep a healthy mental state rather than just be happy. 

One should work for a good mental health as that would lead us to happiness not the other way round. Mental health is also directly linked to your workplace performance, relationship and how you see the world around you, which impacts your physical health and also your financial or economic condition. 

The pre-eminent British happiness researcher, Lord Richard Layard, said: “Mental pain is as real as physical pain. It is experienced in the same areas of the brain as physical pain and is often more disabling.”

To achieve good mental health I will not suggest a big list of 100s of things to do, my recommendation is to do just five things. 

1. Take Responsibility for Yourself

It’s our general tendency to sacrifice our physical and emotional health to achieve financial success and in this race perhaps we forget to value ourselves and later we spend our finances to regain our physical or emotional health. Why don’t we do it right in the first place? What an enigma!

Your self-value comes from inside, from an internal measure that you’ve set for yourself and trick is to find a right balance, 

Try doing following
  • Start with treating yourself with compassion and respect
  • Treat yourself with more humility and avoid self-criticism
  • Treat your body with more care
  • Exercise, go for walks or jog
  • Avoid smoking and restrict alcohol
  • Eat healthy and timely 
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Balance working and home time 
  • Rest and Sleep regularly 
  • Listen to music 
  • Cultivate hobbies like gardening, singing, dancing, playing an  instrument or anything that you enjoy.

The sense of purpose is that strength which fuels our flow and gives us reason to get out of bed and do something different every day which has actually helped mankind to accomplish big things.

2. Find a Right Purpose 

Sometimes we have all the energy, power and everything that the moment needs but we don’t have a purpose. 

I remember of a time in my institute, there was a differently abled student, irrespective of his physical state, he was not only good in studies but also took an active part in stage events, games and almost all the extracurricular activities. I realised one thing that kept him going was purpose. On the other hand, there were many students in the institute who had all the means, yet were not able to enjoy life as he was doing. 

We only hurt ourselves when we lose purpose and we are unable to deal with the present moment. These are the times when problems seem too big and self becomes too small. There is a sense of hopelessness and we don’t know how to find the energy to fight for what really matters to us. 

The sense of purpose is that strength which fuels our flow and gives us reason to get out of bed and do something different every day which has actually helped mankind to accomplish big things.

Which is why purpose is so important to build a better mental and physical health. 

Do the following in order to find your purpose:

  • Find your strengths.
  • Find what you are good at or what you love. 
  • Find out what you feel is difficult for you. 
  • Try and apply your strengths on what you find difficult. 
  • Observe what is more powerful, your strength or your weakness.
  • See how your strengths can help you in your life
  • See how with these strengths you can help the world and others

I am sure after this exercise you will start to have glimpse of your life’s purpose 

3. Keep Good Company 

No matter how much you earn, how much time you spend in building your physical and emotional health, all is useless if you don’t have the company of others and your loved ones.

We all know that humans are social animals and new scientific research has found that our relationship with others has significant effects on our well-being. 

Dr Robert J Waldinger of Harvard Medical School has conducted a series of research. He suggests that people with strong relationships live longer in comparison to people who like loneliness. These people have  poorer mental and physical health and are more prone to depression and increased risk of early death.

“People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected,” he says.

There is an old saying: “Birds of the same feather flock together”, if you stay with depressed people, you may imbibe their behaviour. 

So find reasons to meet people — be it family, friends, neighbours, romantic partners, or others social connections and try to be in company of people who have a more positive outlook towards life. 

A humorous way to remind people of the guidelines of social distancing. Social interactions can help mental well-being too. Illustration by by Lydia Christine/ United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives/ Unsplash

4. Help Others 

Recently I posted a video of a young woman who helped an old blind man to get onto a bus. This post was viewed by more than 100,000 people and garnered 100s of likes and comments. 

So what prompts people to like such videos and comment? It was that spirit that even in today’s world there are people who help others. 

We always need the company of others to feel and function at our best. But do you know that we feel more joyous and fulfilled when we make others happy. We often think that our kindness is mainly for the benefit of others. But actually kindness  helps us first before it helps anybody else and that plays an important role in reducing stress and improves our emotional well-being.

People who are kind and compassionate see clear benefits to their own well-being and serenity. So if you really want to live a happy and healthy life, help others and practise compassion. 

The Dalai Lama said: “If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.”

A few ways to do this easily are:

  • Volunteer for social services
  • Help the needy: children, people who are suffering
  • Donate your old stuff or things that no longer use
  • Sacrifice something for happiness of others
  • Bring smile to people 
  • Engage in work that provide meaning to your life

5. Mindfulness 

We all talk about being physical and financial strength but forget that both of these are outcomes of emotional and mental abilities. Happiness is that flash in the pan which comes and goes whenever we toss pleasurable moments over a high heat of emotions.

Mindfulness plays an extremely important role in building mental abilities and emotional strength. These are age old practices which are now being researched by scientists and used in medical institutions as alternative therapy.  

In simple words, mindfulness enhances one’s ability to purposely focus one’s attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Which means people become less driven by the past and get more invested in the present moment, hence they get more calm and can see themselves more clearly.

  • Mindfulness increases attention, reduces stress and improves physical and mental immunity 
  • Mindfulness enriches a person’s ability to be in the present moment and being aware of one’s emotional state
  • It allows us to be more present for the joyful moments of life
  • Mindfulness allow you to observe your thoughts like passing clouds or ocean waves and stops you to be emotionally swept away by them
  • It allows to pause before reacting in ways that might be unhelpful or hurtful, or interrupt times when we’re already stuck in a negative spiral

You can try this mindfulness meditation which can help build focus attention, calm and peace of mind. 

Today there are enough scientific studies and evidence that support the key role of mindfulness in stress management, cultivating mental well-being and overall happiness. 

One should not mistake peace of mind with happiness. It’s very similar to how our brain makes a mistake by treating thirst as hunger. With a good mental health one can achieve purposeful and peaceful life.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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