I’ve been a fan of neuropsychology for the past several years—learning about the amazing things the brain can do. However, the issue of being psychologically healthy has been around this planet for several thousands of years. I think the following four points are in all cultures and all religions in one form or another. I found a reference about needing strong, intense social relationships dating back to 2500 B.C. The four points: Physical, Social, Creative, and Spiritual.
So much has been written about your physical health and the benefits. One series of studies I’m fond of started at Stanford and was replicated at the University of Michigan, and to be replicated again at Duke University. It was a very large study with the same results that occurred so often; I don’t think they do it anymore. If you take a large group of depressed people and randomly divide them into two groups and one group goes to a counselor for a year and the other goes to a gym for a year, the group that went to the gym is far less depressed than those that went to counseling.
More and more has been written about the need for a strong social life. My favorite study about five years ago was done in Utah and looked at many research articles on health and social connection. It turns out that having a rich social life reduces your risk of death by any cause for the following year by 50%. Imagine that. Being obese and smoking is less risky than being social isolated.
Being creative can be a lifelong practice. The dendrites in your brain—those little things that branch out from neurons, but don’t touch each other—can continue to grow well into your 70’s and can start to shrink back as early as your 30’s. Watching TV is entertaining but is doing almost nothing to ‘grow’ your brain.
Finally, your spiritual life. I would like to make the distinction between religion and spiritual. Both can be together, but there are many people that are religious but not spiritual and many that are spiritual, but not particularly religious. What gives your life meaning and purpose? What matters?
Here’s a test. Score yourself from one (low) to ten (high) in each area. There are 40 possible points. Nobody gets 40 points unless they are delusional, but if you have 8’s in all areas, you are doing very well. I have a small table in my office that is very old, but sturdy and it could possibly hold 500 pounds. This is not because each leg is perfectly strong, but the legs are balanced. That’s the goal, find the balance and keep rebalancing it throughout your life.
When I was first divorced about 12 years ago, ‘True North’ was my ‘template’ in finding a woman I wanted to be with. Was she physically fit, did she have good friends, was she creative and did she have a clear sense of meaning and purpose? I found that perfectly in my wife Chris. I lucked out as even a blind pig can find a truffle. However, for me to find that woman, I needed to be pretty much aligned with True North also. If you want to play tennis with a good player, you need to be a good player.
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