Dear Dr. A.,
Too many people rely on prescription medicines these days for happiness. I don’t want to take that route. What do you suggest I do to improve my happiness and mental well-being?
Dear Health Conscious,
You already know the short answer to your question concerning mental and physical well-being. A balanced and nutritious diet, seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise every day constitute the accepted regimen of all-around fitness for any individual. Also, we know that physical fitness has a direct bearing one one’s mental well-being and optimistic attitude due to the release of endorphins and serotonin during extended physical exercise.
This natural high has been one of the greatest antidepressants known to humankind 10,000 years before the establishment of pharmaceutical companies. Of course, prescriptive medications and the advance of medical and technological procedures, as well as vaccines for prevention of diseases, have done much to treat physical ailments and many emotional and psychological disorders. Science and societal awareness have increased our average longevity from around 50 years at the beginning of the 20th century to about 78-85 years today. However, longevity does not always bring wisdom, contentment, or happiness.
Along with a healthy regimen similar to the one described earlier, daily spiritual renewal is essential if one is to find true happiness and contentment which is never based on power, fame, possessions, net worth, or physical image. Rather, true happiness comes from within and is centered on a strong core of positive values, faith, gratitude, hope, optimism, and acceptance of life events beyond human understanding or control.
Significant others (parents, spouse, family, friends, religious fellowship, etc.) can enrich your life beyond measure but only you are accountable for your own happiness. Depending on others for this inner, spiritual well-being will often create frustration, anger, and depression, and can sometimes develop into physical and mental illness. Real love and happiness begin with loving yourself first in a way that is not egocentric or arrogant.
I wrote the following essay years ago and many of my clients have internalized the spiritual meaning of the words regardless of their different faiths, as a guide for their journey toward authentic fulfillment and happiness. I hope it helps you as well.
I am able, valuable, responsible, unique, and special. Though I need to give and receive love, I know I must first love myself as a creation of God with gifts and talent to help others. This lends purpose to life and makes each day meaningful.
When I learn to love myself, it is an affirmation and an approximation of God’s perfect love on earth. This inner knowledge gives me strength to love others unconditionally as well as to practice forgiveness. No one has the right to judge, criticize, or diminish who I am inside. This is the soul of my personhood which I can protect by choosing what to internalize and what to reject. I refuse to be a victim of anyone’s comments, perceptions, or actions. Ultimately, I am responsible and accountable for my own happiness in life, realizing that others can only enrich the quality of my life experience.
I must understand that while I cannot always control what happens to me in this life, I can control my reaction to life’s events and circumstances. To blame others for my condition or circumstance is to become an angry victim. Only I can choose not to be a victim or to be manipulated by shame or guilt inflicted by others.
I will trust and follow my heart in being compassionate toward others in general and selectively love those who are closest to me. If my love is rejected or not returned in a mutually sustained commitment, I must have the courage to redirect this very personal gift from my soul. True, unconditional love must be reciprocal or it will die. Authentic love is given freely from the spiritual self and is returned if it is meant to be. Loving God is the first and greatest law of life which enables me to truly love others as myself. This is the universal essence of all religions and the key to achieving inner contentment, happiness, and world peace.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Lane Anderson’s book, Answers to Questions About Life, Livin’, and Lovin. To order his book, or for more information about his private practice in Mebane, go towww.andersonfamilytherapy.com.