Contentment – The Mental Equivalent of Fitness
Mental health is the first and last element of wellbeing, and probably the middle one, as well.
This is an ungainly, unscientific and made-up way of expressing what the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) elegantly proclaimed (though with many more words) as an advance toward a new definition of mental health:
Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium. (Source: Toward a New Definition of Mental Health, Journal of the World Psychiatry Association, June 14, 2015, pp. 231–233.)
Thus, mental fitness not only complements but probably enables physical fitness, given the elements of such a state. Both are needed to approach your potentials for wellbeing and long life. There are common understandings of physical fitness, but less consensus about the nature of mental fitness, though the topic has been extensively explored.
It may be just semantics, but what other quality of mental fitness might we suggest that seems overlooked in the WPA definition?
We suggest a sense of contentment, a good deal of the time. Contentment means a state of being happy and satisfied, relatively free from worries and restlessness with ample experiences of peace and relaxation. Contentment is not a gift from the gods, a state found in just the right combination of medications or a capacity to stand on one’s head while chanting a mantra. Achieving contentment follows a pattern of mental conditioning, comparable to the physical fitness level derived from months of training in a pool, on a bike and/or running/walking regularly.
Of course, the mental fitness state of contentment, even in the face of a sea of troubles large and small, is invaluable at all stages of life. If you have not practiced calming techniques so far, consider your advance toward seniority status as a fine time to get started.
Consider these tips:
- Prepare for an increase of disappointments with age – the aches and ailments, unwelcome changes in society, noisy children, doctors who dispense bad news and so on. Exercise your contentment muscles so that week by week, month after month, you find yourself better able to bear heavier loads of potential disturbances with less expenditures of worry, alarm, fear or dismay.
- Resolve to increase your mental REAL wellness skill of contentment. This will safeguard your ability to reason, enjoy, move and feel as free as conditions allow.
- Try to interpret the beginning stage of all troubles, whether simple disappointments, pains or limitations, as challenges or alerts to refocus. All such troubles signal the need to protect your serenity, calm and resolve to smile and enjoy as much as possible.
Of course, contentment in this sense of mental fitness is not easy, nor is physical fitness now or during your earlier life—if this were so, nearly everyone would be in a state of optimal wellbeing – and we all know that’s not the case.
Think of mental fitness, with contentment being the foundation of this splendid state of being at all ages, as a heroic act – and a gift to others with the good fortune to observe and learn from your modeling of successful aging.
Robert W. Goldfarb captured these sentiments in a recent essay in the New York Times:
If there is one characteristic common to friends who are aging with a graceful acceptance of life’s assaults, it is contentment. Some with life-altering disabilities — my blind friend, another with two prosthetic legs — are more serene and complain less than those with minor ailments. They accept the uncertainties of old age without surrendering to them. A few have told me that the wisdom they’ve acquired over the years has made aging easier to navigate than the chaos of adolescence. (Source: Robert W. Goldfarb, The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment. The New York Times, October 2, 2018.)