Mental well-being: what does it depend on?

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Robert Maurer

Mental well-being: what does it depend on?

Being well psychologically does not always depend only on our attitude or on how optimistic we are. There are many things beyond our control that affect us. And the fact that they do is perfectly normal. We are not superheroes.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Philosopher Albert Schweitzer said that being well is more than being in good health, it is above all a mental attitude. The idea is certainly logical and significant. Most of the time, though, achieving mental well-being doesn't just depend on our attitude towards events.

Igor Grossmann, professor of scientific psychology at the University of Waterloo (Canada), points out that we live in an increasingly individualistic society. It has been evident since the last century and now, in the midst of the technological age, it is reaching its peak.

This leads us to suppose, for example, that happiness is attainable through willpower and determination. We also repeat to ourselves that any goal can be achieved with the right motivation and that to feel good you just need to have optimistic thoughts.

However, it is dangerous to take full responsibility for our well-being, because it could vanish at the slightest "mistake". Not everything is under our control nor is it totally up to us.

Sometimes fate gives us a setback that is as unexpected as it is painful; other times the people around us leave, betray us or disappoint us. Faced with these situations we can only be aware that being happy is not 100% up to us, no one can foresee adversity.

Daily challenges to achieve mental well-being

Achieving psychological well-being is a daily exercise and not an end that is reached and that's it. Even if we feel we are in a positive moment in our life, however, we must take care of ourselves and face the small and big challenges that arise every day.

For example, you may be happy because of your romantic relationship or professional success. Even so, small unexpected events always arise that cannot be controlled and that cause us stress, anxiety and worry. It doesn't mean we were wrong.

Just because our company suddenly shrinks doesn't mean we're worth less. So, if at some point we find ourselves out of work, it does not mean that we are less valid, less courageous or weak.

In the face of all complicated circumstances, we react for who we are, human beings and not superheroes. We are interconnected people in a context of (often unexpected) events that always affect us to a greater or lesser extent.

So what does mental and emotional well-being depend on?

Achieving mental well-being doesn't just depend on us. So what are the factors that determine it? Research work conducted at the University of Adelaide (Australia) highlights something interesting.

We often tell ourselves that psychological well-being is synonymous with happiness and that its opposite is mental distress. However, not everything is black or white, positive or negative.

Sometimes, the opposite of happiness is not unhappiness, but fear. It is therefore important to consider that mental well-being is determined by many factors to the point that few realities are so complex.

Ryff's model of mental wellbeing

Psychologist Carole Ryff enunciated in the 90s a very interesting and useful theory on how to achieve mental well-being. This approach is based on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and offers us 6 strategies:

  • Runtime: defined as the ability to perceive oneself as independent and capable of carrying out one's actions without social pressure.
  • Environmental control: it refers to the feeling we have of being in control of many events.
  • Personal growth: defined by the feeling that we are evolving, maturing to acquire a more complete view of the world and ourselves.
  • Positive relationships: enjoying healthy relationships is essential for achieving psychological well-being.
  • Having a purpose in life: as Viktor Frankl pointed out, making sense of life is the key to finding balance and satisfaction.
  • Self-acceptance: knowing how to accept yourself, love yourself for what you are and validate every need and characteristic trait is a way to reassert yourself as a person and feel good.

If we see and analyze each of these dimensions, we notice that achieving mental well-being depends on factors over which we do not have full control.

Sometimes society does not allow us absolute autonomy, we cannot control everything around us and in some cases the relationships with our loved ones are not as positive as we would like.

We can't always feel good and that's normal

We will not always be well and this is completely normal. We cannot enjoy the same energy, optimism and motivation every day, because we are people, not robots programmed by algorithms.

What surrounds us influences our mood and makes us vulnerable to the unexpected, to what is beyond our control; it is perfectly acceptable and understandable.

It is enough to know how to face the daily challenges. There will be days when we will be happy and times when we will be deeply unhappy. There will be moments of difficulty and years of calm and satisfaction.

Existence is not a straight line or a calm sea, we must learn to navigate through uncertainties as we try to be comfortable with ourselves.

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