Neuroscientist Richard Davidson considers mental well-being a skill, and describes its four components:
awareness is attention and focus, the mind being aware that it is a mind, generating thoughts and judgments. 47% of people, Davidson reports, are not paying attention to what they are doing. An unaware mind, he says, is an unhappy mind. You can practice this: to be aware of the present moment. Close your eyes and feel what it’s like to inhabit your body. Notice any sensations you feel: the temperature of the air on your skin, the position of your spine as it sits in the chair, the sounds around you. Notice your breath as the air moves in and out, past your nostrils. Feel your belly rise and fall. Mindfulness and meditation are ways to practice this skill.
Connection includes kindness, empathy, and maintaining a positive outlook. Kindness is treating others or yourself with care, concern and respect. Empathy is feeling with one another. Believing that, when things get difficult, they will get better again helps maintain resilience. You can practice this skill by doing one kind thing – a good deed – every day. When you are with someone, listen closely to what they have to say. Notice their expressions and body language. Play the “just like me” game: as you go through your day, if you have a judgment about someone, mentally and “just like me.” For example, if someone around you is rude to a store clerk, remember the times in your life when you have been in a bad mood and have been rude. You can think “boy, that person was rude… Just like me.”
Insight is self-knowledge and pairs nicely with awareness. Meditation and journaling are great tools for developing this skill. Practicing meditation, you become aware of your thoughts as they arise and subside. You learn, as Pema Chodron says, “don’t believe everything you think.” Writing in a journal, you can make conscious the stories you are telling yourself about a situation and how you feel about them. You can choose to create a more compassionate tale.
Purpose is a sense that life has meaning. It consecrates daily tasks. Davidson points out that living with purpose is the single best predictor of survival among people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Consider creating a personal “mission statement.” Who do you want to be? What do you want your life to say? What makes you feel alive? When you know your purpose, you can look at the tasks you do each day as a way of fulfilling that purpose.
Well-being is a skill and can be learned and practiced allowing you to feel healthier, more positive, and happy to be alive.