Positive Goals for Mental Health

Two big goals

Two big things that mental health professionals constantly try to prevent are harm to oneself and harm to others. But it’s good to go beyond the absence of harm, and “level up” to finding great ways to promote

  1. the long-term happiness of yourself, and

  2. the long-term happiness of other people.

These are great goals for mental health, and great goals for life in general. Here are other ways to express these: being good to yourself and good to others. Kindness to self and others. Caring for yourself, caring for others. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

What are some ways to pursue these goals?

16 Skills and Principles

Here are things that people can get skilled at. These skills help them achieve the two big goals.

  1. Productivity. The skill of choosing worthy goals and working effectively at them. Having a good “work capacity,” that is, the ability to keep working long enough, is an important part of this skill. Being able to focus and concentrate is another important part, as is the ability to organize your efforts.

  2. Joyousness. Being able to feel good about the blessings of fate or good luck, the good things other people do, and the good things you do, helps you to enjoy life and keep up the motivation to make wise and good choices. The happier you are, as a general rule, the more you’re able to make other people happy.

  3. Kindness. Knowing ways of making other people happier, and using those ways very often. Helping, listening, complimenting, giving, doing fun things with, consoling, teaching, doing work for, giving cheerful greetings to – all these and more are ways of being kind.

  4. Honesty. Not lying, cheating, or stealing; not making promises that you don’t keep. In this way people can learn to trust you, and trust is essential to good human relationships.

  5. Fortitude. Handling it when things don’t go as you want them to. Being rational about how to solve problems rather than having temper tantrums or giving up or feeling so bad that you can’t function well. Handling adversity.

  6. A) Good individual decision-making. Thinking carefully about what to do, especially in “high stakes” situations. Getting good information, generating options creatively, thinking carefully about pros and cons – these maneuvers and others are part of good decisions skills.

B) Good joint decision-making or conflict-resolution. You and another person figure out a plan for a choice that will affect you both. In good joint decision-making or conflict-resolution, you stick up for your own interests in as nice a way as you can, think hard about the options to solve the problem and their advantages and disadvantages, and try to come to an agreement that is good for both people.

  1. Nonviolence. Not hurting or killing or threatening those actions. Beyond that, working toward a world in which violence is extremely rare. Trying to make a more peaceful world for people to live in.

  2. Respectful talk. Even when disagreeing, speaking with respectful words. You can strongly disagree without condemning the person. Trying to use polite and courteous talk as much as possible.

  3. Friendship-building. Forming positive relationships with other people. Having fun in conversation with people, learning to take pleasure in friendly chats.

  4. Self-discipline. When you have a choice between two actions, one of which feels better in the short run, but the other of which produces a better result in the long run, choosing the second. For example, choosing healthy food when junk might taste better; choosing to exercise when being lazy might feel better; choosing to do homework when watching TV might feel better.

  5. Loyalty. Making good choices about whom to stick by and stick up for, and whom not to. Not dropping friendships for no good reason, but being able to get out of relationships that are “toxic” for you. Sticking by people who have been kind to you.

  6. Conservation. Not wasting money, time, or the earth’s resources. Saving money rather than spending it unnecessarily. Keeping in mind how your actions affect the earth’s environment.

  7. Self-care. Looking after your own health and safety. Making good choices about alcohol, smoking, vaping, drug use, seat belts, sun exposure, loud noises, safe driving, diet, exercise, not taking unwise risks, etc.

  8. Compliance. Contributing to the “rule of law” by obeying those laws and those directions from authority that are good and right to obey. Following the directions of parents or teachers unless these people are directing you to do something wrong.

  9. Positive fantasy rehearsal. Using your imagination to practice good behaviors. Avoiding having fun imagining that people are hurt or killed. This is a tall order given the amount of violence in video games and movies and so forth. But it is better to use the power of fantasy rehearsal to go over positive, useful, ethical actions.

  10. Courage. Doing what’s best without letting fear get in the way. If you have unrealistic fears and aversions, working to overcome them. When you must do scary things for a very good reason, courage is the skill to get yourself to do them. Courage does not mean taking foolish risks just to prove that you can face danger.

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It’s recommended to notice, classify, and celebrate your own positive examples of any of these skills, and to do the same thing with any positive models you see other people doing, whether in real life, in fiction, in history or biography, or in your own imagination. It’s also good to just wish, often, that you will get better in these skills; this is one case where wishing tends to make things come true. Getting very skilled at these is a lifelong pursuit that has a very high payoff.