Posted by: thealienist | March 9, 2010

Foundations of Mental Health: A Mission

Sometimes you have to admire children.  They can waste time better than anyone.  They can use up days, make and break (and remake) friendships, and produce next to nothing in return.  This is not a bad thing for children.  They get to try out a lot of different activities and sample the use of many skills.  But such times are limited.  Eventually, we grow up and face an existential crisis.  We ask, “What am I here for?” and “What is the importance of the things I have done after I am gone?”  We are protected from these questions as children and often become only dimly aware of them as adolescents and young adults.  These questions become more important as we become more aware that our earthly life is short; that we, our friends, and our family are not going to live here forever; and that work (and blogging) we do is destined to be lost among the rubble of time.  This post addresses what we can do when faced with this reality.

Some philosophers have recommended that we simply accept that life is meaningless and that we are fundamentally alone.  While some might find that this is a noble and even heroic act as man defiantly makes his way through an alien universe, I can’t say that I am a big fan of it.  But, to each his own.

Instead, I often recommend that people find a cause or activity that is bigger than themselves.  I urge my patients to search for things that they look forward to doing each day and that they can be satisfied with each evening.  There are innumerable options to choose from — more than I could even try to list.  However, there are some broad categories that I highly recommend.  I know that these represent only my views, but perhaps they can “prime the pump” for your own thoughts.

1.  Invest in people:  Our fellow humans are among the most precious treasures we have.  They are our companions, helpers, entertainers, educators, allies, opponents, comforters, agitators, and sources of endless fascination.  They are so like us that we can feel their feelings and experience their lives.  But at the same time, they are different from us in their thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.  This mixture of similarity and otherness is unique to us in this life.  I encourage you to watch others.  Talk to them and see life from another pair of eyes.  Challenge them, and have them challenge you.  Invest your time and your energy in improving their lives.  In my opinion, nothing you invest for the good of another person is wasted.

2.  Search the Spiritual:  This life is not all there is.  There are truths that do not rest on material law.  Learn the wisdom contained in scripture.  Search for the sources of happiness, contentedness, and peace that have comforted generations of our ancestors.  We are not the first to address the existential questions.  Don’t feel that you have to discover the answers by yourself.  Take your turn in the long line of spiritual searchers throughout the ages and for ages to come.  I find that Christian teaching and a Christian worldview contain profound truths and inexhaustible wisdom that give meaning to my work and my leisure time.  They give me ways to express thoughts and feelings that transcend even the grandeur of the physical universe.  And finally, they give me resources with which I can confront and overcome the challenges of living.

3.  Find a Mission:   Think of something that is important to you.  Now, join others in preserving, perpetuating, restoring, or combating it.  There are many things to do.  Work with others to preserve a park or protect the earth.  Learn a skill and pass it on to another interested person.  Discover a piece of history and work with others to restore it and make it available to others.  Participate in activities to support research to end an illness or social situation that has touched those you care about.

4.  Seize the Day: Whatever you choose to do, do it with a purpose.  In this life, you exchange time for experience — spend your time well.  The experiences you buy with your time are yours forever.  Own the choices you make.  Do not let life passively slip from your fingers, but choose to do the things whose memories will be treasured throughout your life.  Whether things are great or small, make them yours and enjoy them.

I know that these are vague suggestions and that there are surely many more that could be listed.  There are simply the ones that came most quickly to me and the ones that guide my life.  Feel free to leave comments with your own suggestions.

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