There are hundreds of lists online that tell you the essential ingredients to a healthy lifestyle, each of them centering around a convenient number of critical steps to take. A quick Google search shows you can live a healthier life in eight simple steps or in 10 important ways or in 45 easy changes you make to your lifestyle, like skipping one cookie a day – an option that will find you six pounds lighter at the end of the year.
Most of these lists, a quick survey finds, center around your body and your body image. If you were to find the most common steps listed in finding a healthy lifestyle exercise and diet would certainly be the top two ingredients by a mile. After that, the lists scatter into more personalized options. Sleeping well is probably in the top five, and it should be mentioned that the most pragmatic suggestion out there comes from WebMD, where people are advised to schedule an appointment with your doctor and your dentist.
Interestingly, however, No. 5 on the list in our informal survey opens up a huge category of suggestions that aim towards a healthier perspective on life including laughing more, cultivating better relationships and learning to meditate or reduce stress. In so many words, No. 5 on the list after exercise, diet, sleep and see your doctor(s), has to do with mental health.
Not only is that category broad and vague – what constitutes mental health, anyway? – but making suggestions for improvement tend to be very simplistic. Many of the lists urge people to think more positively or simply “laugh more often.”
This is curious advice. If someone was going through a terrible breakup and just lost their job at the same time, would it be helpful to tell that person to laugh more often – ha, ha, ho, ho! Probably not.
On the other hand, telling that person to numb their troubles with illegal drugs or alcohol certainly isn’t a great suggestion, either. In fact, rehab center staff around the world see patients facing this kind of dilemma all the time and would simply advise that there are times when people should be more careful than ever about making drastic changes in their lives.
Moving to a new location with better job options and fewer reminders of a breakup might be a wise choice for people who do well with that kind of challenge. Finding a bar stool and settling in for the long haul, however, is a bad idea for anyone. Option three, which a friend of mine took when his wife left him, might be to take up jogging. This got the endorphin flow going and improved his self-esteem at a time when circumstances could have brought him down.
Instead of laughing more, try this litmus test instead: When bad things happen, you would be expected to react with sadness, somberness, sobriety. When good things happen, you would be expected to react with lightness, laughter, good cheer and, again, sobriety.
Strong mental health implies you can feel sad when the occasion calls for that, but that you have the inner strength to know that when an appropriate amount of time passes, you can bring yourself back to a level, productive, positive place again. Similarly, when good things happen, you can bring yourself back down to Earth after a reasonable celebration, because life, come Monday morning, needs to be faced with sobriety and resolve.
Laughing more, thinking positive thoughts, developing healthy relationships and reducing stress are certainly positive steps people should take in generalized terms. But none of the lists found in our quick survey mentioned addressing your mental health needs with sober responsibility and then taking the steps that fit your circumstances, needs and cultural belief system. If you burden your friends or family with your overflowing problems or cannot master the basic needs of life – work, love, relationships, enjoyment – then you need to take responsibility for this in a straightforward, sober fashion. Let us admit with finality that hitting bottom is a subjective experience and you can decide you have hit bottom right now, where ever you are at, and seek professional help. We waste all that time making up your mind that you are worth it? Why not take action now?