Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

What Does It Mean to Be Mentally Healthy?


By Mark Goddard

Enough books and articles have been written on mental illness to fill an
entire library. Most therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists spend
their whole career trying to heal and repair the mentally ill. Yet,
surprisingly little attention is paid to those who enjoy exceptional
mental health. Even the most optimistic of professionals seem to have
modest ambitions. If they can return a depressive or agoraphobic to
ordinary, humdrum existence, they are content. Freud himself remarked
that his followers could hope merely to restore their patients to a
state of “common unhappiness.”

Those suffering from mental ill-health are often contrasted with the
ordinary “man-in-the-street.” Just because this average Joe isn’t
crippled by anxiety, obsessions, or insomnia, that does not mean he is
mentally healthy. People should aim higher. If you wished to be a great
actor, for example, you would study Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet
rather than a talentless, pretty-faced Hollywood star. Instead of
concentrating on what it means to be coping, it would be wiser to
concentrate on what it means to be thriving! Those with exceptionally
good mental health tend to possess some, or all, of the following

  1. A positive attitude. Their basic attitude or
    outlook is positive. This does not mean they are simple-minded or naive
    of course, neither does it mean they go through life with an inane grin
    on their face. On the contrary, they are grounded in reality. Their
    basic stance towards the world is affirmative. They are curious,
    interested, and open. People fascinate them and new ideas excite them.
    They rarely say “I’m bored,” “who cares?” or “what’s the point?” In
    essence, they are grateful to be alive. This positivity tends to be
    mixed with fearlessness. Again, this is not taken to an extreme; they
    are not reckless, but they do embrace life. They will try a sushi
    restaurant, visit an exotic city, or take up salsa dancing without fear
    of ridicule or failure. If they do make fools of themselves, they simply
    join in the laughter and try something else.

  2. A realistic attitude. It is often said that
    mental health can be measured by how closely someone’s view of reality
    matches actual reality. A psychotic, for example, has entirely lost
    touch with reality. Of course, most people are not psychotic, but many
    do interpret the world to fit how they wish it was. The mentally healthy
    are neither pessimists nor optimists. They see the world as it really
    is, without escaping into fantasy. Because of this, they are able to
    respond quickly and effectively during times of crisis. Many people find
    life disappointing. Rather than trying to alter their life, they escape
    into fantasy. For example, someone with financial problems might
    believe they have a “system” for beating the casino and blow what little
    money they have left. They may convince themselves that their son is a
    gifted footballer who will some day be signed by Manchester United. In
    the hope that he will fulfill their dream, they may then push and bully
    him until he breaks down.

  3. Freedom from self-pity. Strong, happy people
    acknowledge the bad times. They will admit to feeling sad, lonely,
    bored, or heartbroken. Avoiding self-pity is not the same as denying or
    repressing negative emotions. In fact, the mentally healthy are usually
    more honest and open about their pain and suffering. They do not feel
    sorry for themselves. Again, this is partly due to their realism. They
    never say “why me?” because they are perfectly aware that the universe
    could respond “why not you?” They know that the world is a hard place
    and never forget that countless individuals suffer the most horrendous
    things. Far too many people go through life convinced that they have had
    a raw deal. They feel entitled to more love, fun, and happiness than
    they are getting. Others never feel this sense of entitlement in the
    first place.

  4. An openness to love. Many people have a
    twisted, unhealthy attitude towards love. They claim to love
    unconditionally when, in truth, their love is anything but
    unconditional. Relationships too often resemble business arrangements:
    “I will give you x amount of love on condition that you give me the same
    amount of love and support in return.” Love should never be seen as an
    investment. The mentally healthy give love freely and unconditionally.
    It flows from them. In part, this is because they do not see other
    people as objects to be used and manipulated for their own gain. Another
    reason is that, though they find it easy to love, they also find it
    easy to let go. In other words, they do not cling. They are
    self-sufficient and self-reliant. In turn, this means their
    relationships are stronger and healthier. They enter into them and
    commit through choice, not because they are afraid of being alone.

  5. An ability to adjust to change. The more people
    resist and fight change, the more they suffer. Those who enjoy
    excellent mental health seem to thrive on change, embracing rather than
    enduring it. This may be due in part to their open, generous, loving
    attitude. Because of this, they draw in love and affection, providing
    them with a safety net when things go wrong. Thanks to their realistic
    understanding of the world, they know that change alone is constant and
    that nothing lasts. So, when their children leave home, or their boss
    makes them redundant, they aren’t surprised. Most people know these
    things happen; they know their parents will get old and die, that
    marriages go through bad times, that recessions hit, and so on, but at a
    deeper, subconscious level they refuse to accept such things.

  6. An awareness of their limitations. Many people
    never accept their limitations and go through life clinging on to all
    sorts of unrealistic hopes and dreams. When they fail, they then
    transfer these hopes on to their children, bullying and pressuring them
    until they snap. Of course, there is nothing wrong with hoping to be a
    famous singer, international model, or published novelist, but in
    reality, your chances are small. Most people are mediocre; only a
    minority are blessed with intellectual brilliance, sporting talent, or
    artistic genius. The mentally healthy know this. They do not put
    themselves down, but they are aware of their limitations and have
    reconciled themselves to these limitations.

These traits rarely exist alone. In fact, they usually feed into and
strengthen one another. For example, someone whose understanding of
reality closely matches actual reality will probably be aware of, and
reconciled to, their limitations; they will also be prepared for and
able to adapt to change. Because they are open to love, giving freely,
and expecting nothing, in return, they are loved back and have people
they can turn to when disaster strikes. If you lack self-pity, you will
sooner recover from setbacks and find it easier to embrace and love

Source: Healthguidance.org