The key to a happy life
The key to a happy life is the ability to transcend personal suffering, find a balance, and recognise that the world has problems. This requires mental effort and those of us who strive to better understand ourselves in the world come out the other side as a new person, with some peace of mind and a way to live.
Fundamental or accidental?
A limit to understanding ourselves in the world is the fact that we do not know that some of the things we perceive to be truly fundamental today may actually be just accidental. For instance, the brain uses systematic patterns of thought to produce philosophy including science, mathematics, literature, ideas, and beliefs including a belief in a deity to guide us towards new insights. What we need to understand is that none of these may be fundamental in themselves. They are just tools that our ancestors used to probe the unknown and to see what is possible – knowing that what is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists.
Accidental fundamentalism is often mistaken for truth
In the West, we have made the truth our highest value. This motivation while important is weak compared to the actual power of belief. We are born into a culture that often insists on a particular religious or ideological philosophy as fact and the only way to understand ourselves in the world, but adhering to this belief may cause personal suffering by impeding insights necessary to achieve peace of mind. Resisting enculturation is the highest expression of human psychological development and is a hallmark of what is called in psychology the fully self-actualised person.
Self-actualisers reject accepted cultural ‘truths’ and see beyond the confines of an era to achieve a clearer perception of reality. A further subtle difference sets these people apart. Most of us see life as striving to get this or that – whether it be material things or having a family or doing well career-wise. Self-actualizers in contrast do not strive as much as develop. They are only ambitious to the extent of being able to express themselves more fully and perfectly, delighting in what they are able to do. Another general point is their profound freedom of mind. In contrast to the conforming pressures around them, self-actualizers are a walking example of free will.
Mental health requires courage
In this way, happiness can be described as personal autonomy. The independence of mind to explore and choose the best skills and tools needed to achieve personal insight. Where you are no longer beholden to culture, creed, or religion and without any attendant guilt or fear in abandoning old ways in order to try new ones as you evolve to become the master of your own fate.
What to believe?
Mental health is two things:(i) being in touch with reality and (ii) being open to new experiences. But here’s the thing – there is no reality only perception. Understand that the world is not necessarily as you perceive it. Everyone has filters and only by acknowledging them can you begin to get a clearer picture. Even in a close relationship, the same simple act can be viewed differently. A man will see paying all the bills as his duty while his wife will see it as an act of love. Appreciate that your views might be prejudices. Most importantly make sure that the perceptions you do retain or adopt are grounded in verifiable facts and can be tested. Otherwise, any actions you take based on your beliefs will be on shaky ground.