Most of us learned early on what was needed to grow up physically healthy: eat our vegetables, avoid sweets, play outside, take a nap.
However, few of us ever learned the skills needed to successfully grow into emotionally healthy adults. Learning to value emotional growth takes maturity and forward thinking.
Imagine living with constant inner chaos, a sense of doom and fear about your future, few friends, the belief that one can't change anything significant about one's life and confusion about why one is alive in the first place. Unfortunately, too many people live this way.
Emotionally healthy people, researchers tell us, don't just live without significant mental illness. They live with a host of positive emotions such as a sense of meaning and purpose in life and relationships, contentment, zest for life, the ability to bounce back from adversity and the ability to make and maintain fulfilling relationships. They are balanced in their activities and have a certain amount of self-confidence.
The bottom line is this: Achieving a level of emotional health makes life much more enjoyable. Almost everyone just wants to feel happy most of the time. One of the first steps is finding positive, loving people to spend time with. Most people's biggest inner fears center on being alone, being rejected, being abandoned or being separated from those they love. The connections we make with others create a sense of well-being and security that helps bring about some level of balance and peace.
You can build these connections in a variety of ways. Start with the place you spend most of your time -- usually school or work. Ask co-workers out to lunch or dinner. Say hello to the classmates sitting around you, and search out common interests. Get to know family members. I'll never forget the surprise and delight I found in being invited to dinner by one of my many cousins. We hadn't had a private conversation since childhood. How delightful it was to strengthen our kinship bonds over warm French beignets.
If you enjoy a hobby, such as scrapbooking or hiking or crocheting, find a group that meets regularly to do these things. If you want to write a book, join a writing club. If you are seeking spiritual connection, go beyond church attendance and find small groups to attend -- even if they exist in churches outside your own. All these endeavors help us align ourselves with like-minded, positive people.
Read books that speed up personal insights, especially about your most intimate relationships, such as family and marriage. Attend conferences that teach how to handle one's finances better or teach you how to resolve the issues of your past. Join support groups to deal with any addiction you may struggle with.
Incorporate a period of rest into your hectic schedule, and learn to play. Put yourself in counseling, or find a life coach to help you push yourself toward the fulfillment of your goals. Address your areas of poor self-image and negative self-talk with a trusted mentor.
And my personal favorite: Make sure you always have an adventure lined up. Whether it's a trip to China or a window-shopping spree at an outlet mall, one should always have something to look forward to. Fun plans add levity to the plainness of daily obligations and responsibilities. They bring a smile to our faces whenever we think of them, which is half their enjoyment.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI Counseling Center and freelance writer.