The Seven Pillars of Emotional Health
By Reuben Westmaas
You probably know somebody who always seems to have a good attitude, no matter what life throws at them. Or maybe you are that person — lucky you. As it turns out, there are a few beliefs that emotionally healthy people tend to hold, and fostering them in yourself could be the key to breaking out of your rut.
The Seven Pillars of Emotional Health
Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendrikson identified a pattern of beliefs that she commonly saw in people with stable and successful emotional health. One caveat: nobody carries all of these beliefs all of the time, and it's certainly not healthy to beat yourself up for struggling to believe these affirmations. But they're certainly a helpful lens with which to to examine your psychological state — and if you do want to start improving your beliefs, we have some tips for that later. But first, the list.
Emotionally healthy people tend to believe these seven things:
- "I can stay the course." Whether you're talking about keeping to your plan even when the payoff is months or years away, or simply resisting the short-term temptation to skip your cycling class for a night of Netflix, confidence in your ability to stick to a plan is the first step towards carrying it out.
- "I can do things I don't feel like doing." The term for this is "mood-independent behavior," and it basically means that sometimes you can want to do something but don't feel like it. So start by doing the thing. Most of the time, your mood will catch up, and even if it doesn't, you'll have done what you needed to (and doesn't that feel good?).
- "I can roll with the punches." When you face obstacles, do you give up, or do you find a way around them? This belief reflects a degree of flexibility. In the same way that the first belief demonstrates stability, this belief reinforces the ability to adapt your plans.
- "Everyone deserves to be treated with respect." You really can't have a stable and healthy emotional life if you look down on people for their income, profession, race, class, or gender. To be healthy, it's important to recognize that we are all deserving of the same respect.
- "I can laugh at myself." In a way, this is related to #3 — when you make a mistake, do you beat yourself up about it, or lash out at someone else? Or do you take it in stride? Having a little perspective can make setbacks seem a lot funnier.
- "I am capable." Believing that you are resilient enough to accomplish what you set out to do is one of the surest ways to prevent anxiety. If you visit a therapist (and you should!), you might find that much of the work you do centers your confidence in your ability to weather any obstacle in the pursuit of your goals.
- "I can love and I am capable of love." In 1938, Harvard began a longterm Study of Adult Development, which is still going strong after 80 years. Though it had many directors through the decades, Dr. George Vaillant had the longest tenure, and he boils down what he learned to five words: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
Here's the bad news: It can be tough to try to rid yourself of harmful thoughts and substitute them for healthy ones. It takes a long time, and it's something you have to keep practicing. Once again, therapy is a great idea for any brain, and a professional can help guide you into healthier mental habits over the course of several sessions.
But if there's a thought that's just lingering around, bringing your whole vibe down, there's something easy you can do to get rid of it. Wash it away. Studies have shown that a shower can go a long way towards ridding yourself of harmful thoughts, and that it's easier to redirect your mental energy after you've gotten all clean. Just remember that when your beliefs change, you might not notice.