Our mental wellness is as important as our physical wellness – so, I thought of writing an article focused on mental wellness. Our mind is very complex and intriguing and has been the subject of exploration of philosophers, thinkers and scientists ever since the beginning of mankind. Such a complex and vast topic is impossible to cover in one article, but I will try to cover some important points from a scientific perspective.
What is meant by mental wellness?
By mental wellness, I mean a state of mind characterized by overall happiness and peace. There may be episodes of stress, worry, anxiety, sadness or anger, but the person gets over them quickly and is overall happy, peaceful, friendly, positive and energetic.
On the other hand, an unhealthy state of mind is characterized by ongoing negative states of stress, anxiety, sorrow, anger, worry, sadness, irritability, anger, envy, jealousy, aggression, lack of enthusiasm, etc. Although everyone experiences these feelings at times, but if it happens constantly, then it can take a toll on one’s health, performance and relationships. Moreover, in many cases, a person may go through life in a seemingly normal way, but suffer a constant, background sense of anxiety and discontentment.
It is natural to want less of these negative feelings and more of happiness. In this article, we will explore how to achieve that. To understand the causes of these different mental states, and what can possibly be done to control them, let us first try to understand how our brain works.
How our brain works?
Our brain is a very complex machine and cannot be described in a few paragraphs. We will restrict our discussion to only some aspects of brain functioning that are relevant to this article.
Three layers of mental activity
Our brain controls our body’s functions and our interaction with the environment around us. We all experience three different types of mental activity:
- Automatic, “hard wired” activity: Much of brain’s activity happens automatically, below our consciousness level, and we are generally not even aware of it. This includes control of all life functions such as breathing, digestion, blood circulation, etc. Moreover, activities that we perform repeatedly start happening automatically, without requiring any conscious control. Examples of such activities include walking, cycling, driving, etc. The brain seems to have the power to “hard wire” any activity that happens repeatedly. This is essentially a layer of pre-programmed activities required for our survival, and activities that get programmed later because of repetition. This layer is known by various names in the literature, such as “autonomous nervous system”, “system 1”, etc., but we will call this layer as the “hard wired” layer.
- Emotional, “limbic system” activity: “Limbic system” is a part of our brain that drives us to avoid threats or pursue opportunities by alerting us through various emotions or feelings. It is actually a part of the hard wired layer, but is being discussed separately because it plays a crucial role in our mental wellness. The limbic system gets continuous inputs from all our senses and monitors them for any signs of threats or opportunities. If it senses a threat, it triggers the commonly known “fight or flight response”. This is accompanied by feelings such as fear, anger and anxiety. If it senses an opportunity (e.g. for food or for mating), it triggers motivation to pursue the opportunity, which is accompanied by feelings such as excitement and passion.This layer is the emotional and motivation center of the brain and corresponds to the “heart” in common phrases such as “head and heart conflict” or “follow your heart”. It energizes us for action and plays a crucial role in our life. At the center of the limbic system is a part called Amygdala, which is sometimes used synonymously with limbic system. We will refer to this layer either as “limbic system” or as “emotional brain”.
- Conscious thinking, “neocortex” activity: This is the layer of conscious thinking and analysis. This layer is found only in mammals and is far more advanced in humans as compared to other animals. This layer is the main distinguishing factor between us and the animals, and is responsible for the vast progress of humans as compared to animals. This layer requires conscious, voluntary effort. This is our rational mind and is responsible for activities such as setting goals, making plans, pondering and reflecting. It can also control emotions by inhibiting the limbic system. This layer is called by various names in the literature, such as Neocortex , Prefrontal Cortex, System 2, etc. We will refer to it as “neocortex” or “thinking brain”. It corresponds to the “head” in the common language. As we shall see, learning to use this layer effectively is the key to our long-term happiness and success.
How our actions are driven by the above three layers?
Let us now understand the main drivers of our actions. There are three main drivers of our actions.
Threat detection and response
Since survival gets priority over anything else, the most powerful driver of our actions is to guard against an imminent threat, which works as follows:
- Our senses constantly scan the environment around us and send signals to the limbic system as well as to the neocortex.
- If the limbic system senses a threat, a “fight or flight” response is immediately triggered, which draws all possible resources to deal with the situation. This includes increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and increased blood flow to the muscles of the limbs, etc.
- In the mean time the neocortex also does an independent evaluation and decides whether it is a real threat.
- However, if the limbic system has already determined a threat and declared an emergency, then the neocortex may not get a chance to intervene. In literature, this is sometimes referred to as “hijacking of the brain” by the limbic system.
- Limbic system’s response is a “quick-and-dirty” response designed to act fast in a life threatening situation. It is crucial for survival in the animal world. But in today’s human environment, such responses can have harmful consequences.
- When the limbic system is responding to a threat, one can “feel” what’s going on, i.e. feelings of “fear”, “anger”, “terror”, etc., which make one feel miserable.
- In the mean time, the neocortex analyzes the situation and may determine a more analytical, judicious and correct response. If the neocortex is able to control the situation, it can calm down the limbic system, sort of telling it that “I’m in control now, so take it easy”. Here, the conflict between the “head” and “heart” can also arise.
- In animal world, a response based on limbic system is good enough, since when faced with a life threatening opponent, there are really only two choices – to fight or to run away. However, in human environment, most threats are not life threatening and there are several other techniques available to deal with them e.g. yield, appease, persuade, plead, stall, apologize, negotiate, threaten, trick, call for help, etc. Using these techniques requires work by the neocortex. So, in human context, it is better to have the neocortex involved in determining a better response than relying purely on the limbic system response.
Opportunity detection and response
If there is no threat, then the next priority is to look for opportunities to satisfy the immediate needs, mainly the primal needs of food and mating. This works in a manner very similar to the threat detection, the only difference is that it has lower priority than threat response, and it is accompanied by pleasant feelings that make us feel good.
- When the limbic system detects an opportunity, it triggers a rise in the levels of a chemical called dopamine, which produces a motivating sense of desire to pursue the opportunity. This sensation is quite pleasant and powerful and is responsible for passionate pursuit of opportunities. It enables you to focus your attention on the opportunity and align the body’s resources towards that pursuit.
- If the opportunity is successfully pursued, it results in release of chemicals that create a sensation of pleasure, such as endorphins, oxytocin and norepinephrine.
- When you get this reward, it builds those memories in the limbic system, which prompt you to pursue those rewards again.
- The opportunity signals also go the neocortex, which does an independent evaluation and can decide to either go along with the limbic system and pursue the opportunity or overrule the limbic system and not pursue the opportunity.
- Here again, the conflict between the “head” and “heart” can arise. While in the animal world, a pure limbic system response is adequate, in the human world, it is better not to pursue an opportunity unless the neocortex is in sync, since all opportunities that provide immediate gratification may not be beneficial or be even dangerous in the long term.
Pursuit of long term rewards and higher goals beyond survival
Neocortex, the thinking part of our brain is the one that distinguishes us from animals. It has enabled us to establish dominance over much stronger animals and create countless wonders including language, machines, tools, cities, art, etc. It enables us to keep improving our lives by building on the cumulative knowledge of all past generations and indulge in several higher pursuits beyond survival.
Neocortex has several capabilities, including
- Logical analysis – capability to analyze situations from a long term perspective based on the knowledge gained through one’s own experiences as well as others’ experiences.
- Problem solving – which enables us to find our way through new, challenging situations.
- Creativity – create new solutions, works of art and technology.
- Long term planning – plan sequences of actions that lead to long term rewards.
- Visualization and simulation – can imagine situations, simulate scenarios and play them as if they were real.
- Exercise control over the limbic system.
However, we need to exercise our will to use the above capabilities effectively. This is really the only part of our mind under our control, and doing so effectively determines our success as well as happiness to a large extent.
When we are not willfully using our thinking brain, it goes into a default activity of running simulations of past and future. It is important to understand this behavior, so let us discuss it a little more.
Simulation – the default activity of neocortex
Neocortex is called upon for action in two situations: when it receives signals from the environment that require its attention or when we willfully decide to do something. At other times, when it is supposedly left idle, it does not really stay idle but engages in simulating events, which play like short video clips in our mind all the time, creating our own “inner world”. This simulation is so powerful that it seems like real and creates the same reactions as if those events were real. The simulated events are generally either re-enacting some past events or creating imaginary future events.
These simulations perhaps evolved to help us in our survival by simulating scenarios based on our past memories of threats and opportunities, in order to prepare us better for similar threats and opportunities in the future. Sometimes, these simulations help us in discovering solutions to problems that we are struggling with. However, most of the time, these simulations are wasteful and add to our misery because of the following:
- The simulations pull us out of the present, which may deprive us of a potential satisfying and enriching experience at this very moment.
- Hurtful experiences of the past keep on playing again and again, causing us to suffer the same pain again and again. Often, such pain gets even amplified after such repeated playbacks.
- Simulations are often based on limited information and wrong beliefs which end up in simulating a situation which may be far from reality. Many future situations forecast by such simulations never really materialize, but cause unnecessary alarm.
- The simulator works with a negative bias and often creates a scenario which is far more pessimistic than the real situation.
Therefore, it is important to keep our thinking brain focused on a beneficial activity, rather than leaving it on its own. If we leave it alone, it is likely to get into a negative simulation mode. As the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the workshop of the devil”.
Our brain is constantly changing – and we have the power to sculpt it
Our brain is a constantly changing organ. This is called as neuroplasticity in literature. Moreover, new neurons are also formed throughout life, which is called as neurogenesis. Any mental activity changes the brain, which implies that if we can control our mental activity, then we can sculpt our brain to make it work better for us. So, just as we can sculpt our body through systematic physical activities, we can also sculpt our brain through systematic mental activities. Here are some important points in this context:
- Our thinking brain is the only part of the brain directly under our conscious control. So, the key lies in deliberately focusing our thinking brain on beneficial activities. Scientific studies have also shown that focused attention makes physical changes in the brain and causes more development in the neocortex area.
- Any repetitive activity gets hardwired in the brain. So, if we focus our attention on practicing the skills beneficial to us, we can become very adept at them. Even difficult and complex actions can become automatic and easy with repetitive focused attention. That’s how masters of any profession are able to perform their tasks with ease.
- Human brain changes throughout the lifespan. So, even in old age, it is important to engage in focused mental activity in order to have a fruitful, happy life.
- It has been found that neurogenesis, the process of generation of new neurons – is aided by proper sleep and by physical exercises. So sleep and exercise are important not just for our physical wellness, but for our mental wellness as well.
- One technique that helps in training our mind to stay focused is meditation. Scientific studies have found that people who practice meditation have a better control over their thinking brain and can control their emotional responses better.
Inherent issues in the default functioning of our brain vis-a-vis modern life
Our ancestors lived in a dangerous environment with threats to life looming all the time. The default functioning of our brain is most suitable for ensuring survival in such a life threatening environment. However, in the modern, relatively safe environment that most of us live in, this default functioning can cause us a lot of mental suffering. Some of the main issues in this context are:
- Strong negative bias: Since any threat to life clearly has to be given priority over anything else, our brain is designed to detect, remember and respond to any threats much more powerfully than to any opportunities. However, the same brain circuitry responds very similarly to much softer threats in our current environment, such as a negative comment or criticism by someone. Even one negative experience from a person or place sticks in our mind much more powerfully than several positive experiences, thus creating a permanent negative bias towards that person or place.
- Imaginary suffering: Much of human suffering is fabricated by our brain. We keep on remembering negative events from the past and keep simulating future negative events. Our limbic system triggers the same “fight or flight” response to even such imagined negative events.
- Preference of immediate gratification over long term benefits: The motivation for pursuing short term benefits is much stronger than for pursuing long term benefits. This leads to procrastination of any tasks that require careful planning and effort but do not offer any immediate rewards.
- “Heart” versus “Head” Conflict. Since both the limbic system (“the heart”) and neocortex (“the head”) get a chance to respond to events in the environment, their responses are often not in agreement. The emotional response is often very different from the rational response. This “Heart versus Head” conflict can cause a lot of mental stress, while delaying our decision making.
- Laziness and distractibility of the thinking brain: It is a challenge to motivate the thinking brain to do some useful work proactively. It works well when the motivation is driven reactively by the limbic system. At other times, it goes into the default simulation mode. There is a tendency to procrastinate any proactive task, anything that requires effort. Even when the thinking brain is engaged in a task that requires concentration, it is distracted frequently by the limbic system, which is always active and looking for stimulation.
Consequences of the above problems
- Frequent arousal of the limbic system and the “fight or flight” response can have negative effects on our physical and psychological health. Physically, it can impact all our vital systems, including our cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, endocrine system and the immune system, making us prone to a variety of diseases. Psychologically, it can cause anxiety, depression, poor concentration and an overall feeling of distress.
- If the thinking brain fails to intervene in a high arousal situation and the limbic system gets to hijack the brain, it can have disastrous consequences such as physical violence, verbal abuse, destruction, or other extreme actions.
- Preference of pursuing short term gratification over long term benefits can cause us to suffer in multiple ways. It can prevent us from attaining our full potential in life. It can lead to harmful addictions, since most addictive substances provide short term pleasure at the expense of long-term ill-effects.
What is the solution?
The solution lies in using our thinking brain effectively to guide our actions. Our thinking brain, if focused on the right activities, has the power to change the hard wired brain, control our limbic system and make us much more competent in dealing with the environment as compared to the uncontrolled, default functioning of the brain.
However, the thinking brain cannot stay focused easily since the limbic system is always trying to distract it. Moreover, the main center of motivation is the limbic system; hence we need its support to bring energy and enthusiasm into what we are doing. So, ideally, the thinking brain and the limbic system (head and heart) have to work together to bring the best in us. When they are really working together in perfect synchronization, one experiences a state of “flow”, when one works at peak performance almost effortlessly and with a joyful feeling. In this state, one is so focused on the activity that one loses track of everything else, including that of time, oneself and the environment. Most of the top performers in their fields experience this state very often. Perhaps, you have also experienced it some time. Our goal should be to reach that state as often as we can.
Although, it is hard to keep our thinking brain focused, with practice one can become progressively better at it. Let us now look at some ways of improving that focus.
How to do it?
In this section, we will cover some practical tips for better utilization of our brain, as compared to its default functioning, in order to improve our happiness and well being.
1. Have a purpose. We all need to have a purpose in life to drive our actions – a purpose beyond survival, beyond the primal needs common to all animals. Having a purpose automatically brings some focus in your life. It leads to definition of goals and a roadmap to achieve those goals. Without a clear purpose, you won’t know what to focus on and your mind can go haywire and get you into a negative spiral.
The purpose can change with time, go but at every stage of life, one must be clear about one’s primary purpose at that stage. For example, someone’s purpose could be “bring up my children in the best possible way”, which would lead to goals such as earn money, give a good education to the children, live in a good neighborhood, etc.
It has been found that people living in all the “blue zones” (the regions of high longevity) have a strong sense of purpose even in their advanced years. Okinawans call it “ikigai”, which means “a reason for being”.
If you don’t have a sense of purpose, then make an effort to find it. For most people, it is not hard to find, since most of us have responsibilities of family, profession and society that defines our purpose. It could be just a matter of stating it clearly. You may also define a new purpose, such as learning a musical instrument or a new skill to give yourself a sense of purpose. You could also become a part of a higher purpose such as “remove poverty”, “remove illiteracy”, etc. But do spend some time on getting a good sense of your purpose, something that excites you to wake up every day.
2. Motivate yourself fully by bringing your head and heart together. Once you have a purpose and have defined your goals, then you need to pursue your goals and keep yourself energized to do so. We have two main centers of motivation in the brain. One is proactive, deliberate and reasoned motivation, driven by our thinking brain, our “head”. Such motivation is generally based on long term benefits and can make you sacrifice short term rewards in favor of long term benefits. The other is reactive and passionate motivation, driven by the limbic system, our “heart”. It is generally driven by short term rewards. For best performance, both of these should be in sync. If driven purely by head, the experience of doing a task can be dull and unexciting and hence one may not be able to put one’s full energy into it. If driven purely by heart, the experience can be pleasant in the short term, but the effects may be harmful in the long run. So it is better to get them in sync. Otherwise, your efforts are likely to be “half-hearted”. Here are some techniques to get them in sync:
a. When the motivation for an action is driven primarily by the head, you can bring the heart (emotion) into it by visualizing the long term benefits from that action. For example, suppose your head has determined that a morning workout is good for you, but your heart is not into it. If you force yourself to go for a workout without getting your heart into it, you may feel bored, your effort may be “half hearted” and you may not enjoy doing it. However, if you remind yourself about the benefits of the workout and visualize yourself in a fit and healthy state, your heart may get into it and make you energized to do it. In that case, you would have achieved full motivation, your effort will be “full hearted” and you will also enjoy doing it.
b. When the motivation is driven primarily by the heart, do check with your head about it. If the head gives a green signal, then there is no problem and you can proceed with full enthusiasm. If the head raises some objections, then it is better to change your action plan in a way that gets the head into sync. For example, if your heart tells you to go for a movie with your friends and your head tells you that there is an important task pending, then it would be better to plan your schedule in a way that the important task is taken care of before you go for the movie. Then, you will have both your head and heart in sync, and be able to really enjoy the movie. Otherwise, even if you go for the movie, the pending task will be at the back of your mind and you may not be able to fully enjoy it.
3. Accept some basic truths, including inevitability of some pain and suffering. We need to accept some basic truths in life. We need to accept that most things in life are really not under control and hence will not always go the way we would like them to go. Life is inherently difficult and requires constant effort. New problems come up all the time and you have to deal with them. Certain things are inevitable, such as old age and death. Things are generally not ideal or perfect. You cannot win all the time. There is no place that is completely safe or secure. You cannot be fully sure about anything, life in inherently uncertain. There will always be some losses, including loss of things very dear to you. This also means that worry, anxiety, stress, fear and grief are inevitable as we move through life. You are not alone in this. Everyone has all these problems, even the richest and the most powerful ones. Once you accept these fundamental realities, you will start enjoying the struggle of life.
4. Understand that some stress is good for you. Stress drives us for action, gives us energy to face challenges and achieve our best performance. One should not expect to be completely stress-free. Do not get stressed by stress itself. Rather, one should learn to channelize the energy generated by stress towards productive, beneficial tasks that address the root cause of stress.
5. Clean-up your memories, your inner world: Your past experiences determine your views, beliefs and behavior. You carry two kinds of past memories: useful and harmful. Because of the negative bias of the brain, the negative, harmful memories tend to accumulate much faster and become more voluminous than the positive, useful ones. It is very important to correct this imbalance, in order to be happy and productive. By conscious effort, it is possible to reverse this tendency and have more positive memories stored. Take the following steps to increase the volume of useful memories and decrease that of harmful ones:
a. Increase your awareness of positive experiences: Since we are attracted more towards bad news than good news, one needs to pay special attention to good news. Relish all positive experiences such as faces of smiling children, minor successes in your daily work, good time spent with family and friends, an act of kindness by someone, etc. By being consciously aware of such experiences and not just taking them for granted, you can make them a part of your memory.
b. Proactively recall positive experiences of the past: Recall your favorite vacations, past successes, time spent with people you love, compliments given to you by others, etc. It may help to write down all your positive experiences that have a soothing effect on your mind. Do this particularly when some negative memory is bothering you.
c. Neutralize negative memories, particularly the ones that annoy you often by these techniques:
i. Attach a positive angle to that event. For example, if it is a past failure for which you blame yourself, remember how that failure helped you to become a stronger person. Over a period of time, the harmful effect of that memory will get reduced.
ii. Be kind and generous to yourself and anyone else involved in that memory. Forgive yourself and any other person you blame for that negative experience.
iii. Recall opposite, good experiences that act as their antidotes. If it is about a failure, recall successes, if it about mistreatment by someone, recall people who have loved and supported you.
iv. If you need to make amends for something, go ahead and do that to bring a closure to that memory – e.g. it could be simply be a matter of saying sorry to someone that you hurt.
6. Deal intelligently with your fears and other negative emotions: Fear and other negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and worry arise when your limbic system senses some threat in the environment. These threats may be real or imaginary. Even if they are real, the intensity of emotion generated may be disproportionate to the probability of the threat or its likely impact. Therefore, it is important to involve your thinking brain when such emotions arise and deal with them after some rational evaluation rather than reacting as soon as the emotion arises. This is also called as “emotional intelligence” in the literature. Here are some tips for dealing with such negative emotions:
a. The first step is to calm down your limbic system, particularly if the arousal is high. Rational thought is best possible with a calm mind. Here are some possible ways to calm your limbic system:
i. Take deep breaths. Relax your muscles that are getting tense. You may even lie down and progressively relax all your muscles. By exercising conscious control of your breath and muscles, you send an “all is well” signal to the limbic system, causing it to cool down.
ii. Connect with people who support you – friends, family, mentor, etc. If they are away, visualize them, because doing so will make you feel better and protected.
iii. Find shelter in an activity that makes you feel safe and protected. It could be reciting a prayer, a chant or an inspirational poem. It could be reading an inspirational book or a religious book.
iv. Provide support to yourself by assuming the role of your own mentor or parent. Be reassuring, encouraging and kind to yourself. Strongly counter any negative thoughts that are pulling you down.
b. Once you are calm, evaluate the source of fear realistically and objectively. Ask yourself questions like: What is the likelihood of its happening? What is the likely damage if it happens? How long will it last? You may find that the event is very unlikely to happen or even if it does, it is not such a big deal. This realization will have an immediate soothing effect.
If it is a problem that you really need to worry about, then start thinking about how to deal with it. Do you have the information and the expertise to deal with it? Can someone help you – a family member, friend or a professional? Write down the problem and the possible solutions. Choose the best course of action and start working on it. Doing something about the problem will make you feel better and will also improve the situation.
c. Do not try to numb your negative emotions by escape routes such as alcohol, drugs, etc. They will just get you into a negative spiral, without solving the problem.
7. Nurture positive emotions of love, compassion, kindness, empathy: You will find yourself much happier and fulfilled by cultivating these positive emotions. Here are some ways of doing so:
a. Spend more time in the company of friends, family and anyone you love and care about. It is very soothing to do so and it makes one’s life more meaningful. People in all the “blue zones” have one thing in common – they give priority to family and friends.
b. Try to understand all situations from other person’s point of you rather than just your own. Think of all possible reasons why a person is behaving the way he/she is. This may bring compassion in you (rather than negative emotions) even when in an adversarial situation.
c. Focus on similarities with other people rather than differences. This will enlarge your world; it will bring more people in the circle of “us”.
d. Be kind to people. Resolve to do some act of kindness every day. Kindness can be expressed in several ways – wishing someone well, helping someone in need, saying nice things, etc.
8. Cultivate Hope and Optimism. They really help you move ahead in spite of failures, obstacles and miseries. Being hopeful and optimistic is more than just believing that everything will work out fine. It is believing in your ability to find a way to realize your objectives, in spite of all the problems. Hope and optimism enable you to keep yourself motivated, to explore alternative methods to accomplish your objectives, to learn new skills if required, to redefine the goals if required, but keep going forward. When your own mind or people around you are trying to paint a negative scenario for the future, deliberately paint an alternate positive scenario, and work towards making that positive scenario a reality.
9. Be mindful. Being mindful means paying full attention to your current activity and not shifting this attention till you deliberately want to do so. Opposite of “mindfulness” is “mindlessness” or “absent-mindedness”. When you do any task mindfully, you do it well and also enjoy doing it. Here are some ways to improve your mindfulness:
a. When you start an activity that requires focus, tell yourself that you are going to just stay focused on that activity till it is done and not get distracted by anything else.
b. Sit in an erect posture. This sends a signal to your brain that you need to stay vigilant and alert.
c. Create an atmosphere in which distractions such as noises, calls, etc. are minimized. Don’t take calls, don’t check emails or messages for that duration.
d. If distractions do happen, then tell yourself that you are currently committed to the current task and will come back to attend to other things when the current task is over. I have found it very useful to simply write down the distracting thought and telling myself that I will come back to it later.
10. Practice meditation. Meditation is a great practice for strengthening your capability to focus your attention. There are many different techniques of meditation, but they all center on deliberately focusing your attention on one single thing – your breath, a word, a person, or any other object for some period of time. It helps in multiple ways. It shifts your attention from stressful thoughts and hence soothes your mind. It builds your capability to concentrate and be mindful. Scientific studies have confirmed that meditation increases the gray matter of neo-cortex region and improves the psychological functions of attention, compassion and empathy. Meditation is like a workout for your “attention muscle”. Just as physical workout helps you in feeling physically well throughout the day, meditation helps you in being mindful throughout the day. To reap these benefits, one needs to practice it regularly, even if it is just a few minutes in a day. If you are new to meditation, it is best to learn it through a good teacher. Look for a meditation class near you.
11. Reduce self importance. We create a lot of stress for ourselves by trying to enhance our importance and prove our superiority. We would be much happier if we just focus on contributing our best, without being concerned about our importance. See yourself as part of a bigger picture. Each one of us is really a very small player in the entire scheme of things in this universe. When we go from this world, the gap would be very easily filled, just as it has been for so many people who have come before us and gone. So, why waste any energy on self importance? Just focus on your useful contribution to the world, and not on yourself. You will feel much happier.
12. Eat well, sleep well and be physically active. These contribute not just to your physical wellness, but mental wellness as well.
The default functioning of our brain is most suitable for the dangerous environment that our ancestors lived in. In the current environment, it causes us a lot of suffering through unnecessary arousal of our limbic system. Our greatest asset, our thinking brain can help us not only in responding rationally to any challenges in the environment, but also in planning and doing things for our long term well being. However, it is difficult to keep it focused because it is constantly distracted by the limbic system and by the simulations of past and future. The inherent negative bias of the brain further complicates the situation. However, by conscious effort, it is possible to train ourselves to keep our thinking brain engaged in beneficial activities that result in our overall happiness and well being. We covered some of the techniques that help in achieving that: having a purpose, bringing head and heart together, neutralizing negative memories, cultivating positive emotions, being optimistic and hopeful, being mindful, practicing meditation, reducing self importance and taking care of your physical health. I hope that you have found some of this information useful. Do share your feedback and experiences.
(Disclaimer: The article is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. The content is based on scientific literature studied by the author and on his own experience, and is not intended to address any mental health issues. You must consult a qualified mental health professional for any mental health issues. The author or the management of this site cannot be held liable for any consequences of using any of the information or techniques mentioned in this article.)