What is Mental Health

We often associate mental health with mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, stress or trauma. But mental health is more then the absence of problems. Just correcting the things that go wrong does not tell us what we need to do to make things go right. The absence of problems doesn't help us decide on our goals, doesn't point us to what is good in life, doesn't guide us in how to raise our children or make our communities better. For this we need information on our capacities to face adversity, promote positive feelings, be productive, develop sustaining social relationships and find meaning and purpose. These capacities help us live our lives to the fullest, and are associated to what Martin Seligman, a founder of positive psychology, refers to as flourishing.

Symptoms of Flourishing

Below is a list of capacities that are associated to mental health and flourishing that I have compiled from a variety of sources:

  • Emotional awareness- knowing and understanding one's own feelings

  • Emotional self control- being able to manage one's own feelings

  • Empathy- being aware of how other people feel

  • Social skills-being able to have close, supportive relationships

  • Compassion- for self and others when when we and others cannot handle our lives perfectly

  • Forgiveness- once we are out of situations where we've been mistreated, being able to free ourselves from the prison of anger and resentment that this mistreatment has caused

  • Gratitude- appreciation for what we have

  • Stress tolerance- able to sit with a certain amount of stress

  • Future minded- able to postpone immediate gratification of short-term needs to achieve long range plans

  • Optimism- a belief in our ability to handle future events

  • Problem solving- ability to come up with effective solutions to new problems

  • Flexibility- being able to bring different skills and strategies to different situations

  • Autonomy- being guided by socially accepted internal standards and values

  • Social acceptance- tolerating and accepting other people even when they are different from ourselves

  • Purpose- having sustaining personal or spiritual beliefs that help us deal with the big questions of life, able to see ourselves as part of something bigger then ourselves

    This may not be a complete list, but I believe it is a good start for anyone wanting to live a life that is more then an absence of problems. If you want to be diagnosed as flourishing, cultivate these capacities!

    Until next time,