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The 3 Basic Needs for Being Mentally Healthy and Happy

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You often hear people say, “you just have to decide to be happy.” That might last a day or two, a week or even a month. Although at some point something’s going to happen. That’s that. It’s over at least for a while.

Happiness isn’t just a choice. It takes work and commitment.

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Deciding to be happy certainly is a big part of it. Although it takes more than just wanting to. It takes dedication to yourself and a continued ongoing effort.

The hardest part was the first part. The choice. Not just that I’m going to be happy today with my friends. Deciding I’m going to work at this till I get it right. I’ve since learned I’ve had to keep working at it after I got it right too.

This was going to be my main focus in life. Not just some hobby. Not just doing what I’m supposed to. Those weren’t good enough. It had to become my only goal. I had to have the will to get well.

The next step was giving up childish emotions and resistant attitudes. But I’m different. I do need help but you’re not the one to do it. But what if I’m right? I had to get serious about my mental health and start trusting my doctors and counselors. I made sure I made all my appointments. I started coming to the 12-step group every week.

I started not just doing all the things that I was supposed, to but proactively working at them. Not beating myself up. Doing my self-affirmations. Controlling my anger. Taking care of my body. In general, becoming a more mature person.

Once I had gotten all that underway, then I could finally start working on making myself happy. Until then, until I got that emptiness out of my life; I could not make myself content.

I was taught in my 12-step group there are three basic needs for good mental health: To be at home. To be somebody. To be going somewhere.

1. The first one was to redo my home to feel more at home.

I did these things slowly one thing at a time. It’s important to do it that way. It’s not just getting material things that made me happy. It’s the journey. The pursuit of happiness that is actually true happiness.

If I had bought a bunch of stuff and brought it all home, that might have lasted the week. The effort and time I put into doing all this was all good times I enjoyed. Figuring out what I did like and what I didn’t like. Making stuff myself as compared to buying it.

I started changing my environment. Getting rid of ornaments, lighting, sounds and in general making my environment less hostile. Then I started adding pleasure to it. Blankets and clothes I enjoyed, like weighted blankets. Incense. Glasses, cups, plates. Ornaments I liked. In my case, things that I made. I made bookshelves out of books. Did different arts and crafts. Making my environment comfortable, so my apartment wasn’t just another one in public housing. It was “my” apartment.

I started treating myself and rewarding myself: going out to lunch, getting new clothing items and self-care such as bath bombs. An occasional massage. I didn’t do these all the time, just one a week or one a month, especially as rewards. I always went out for a good lunch on payday. That was my reward for getting through the month. I also have rewards if I made all my appointments, if I did all my homework, if I worked on my anger and if I didn’t beat myself up. Every time I accomplished something I felt good about myself, I became happier with myself.

2. The next need to be mentally healthy is to be somebody.

I didn’t have a lot of choices at the time, so I decided to lean on my 12-step group. I was going to be a good member of my group. I started going around with the field worker for my area. I went around with her to the hospitals, mental health agencies and group homes to help recruit new members. I went and listened to people’s stories. I told my story of how the 12-step program was helping me. That’s who I was becoming: a good member of my 12-step group.

Spreading it out made me happier for longer than achieving it all at once. If I had talked to all these people all on the same day, I would have been happy for that day or maybe a week later.

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3. The final need for good mental health is to be going somewhere.

I found this was already met for the time being by everything I was already doing. My purpose was to become well. To become a better more mature person.

It took me time, almost three years. I didn’t do it in order. Working on my apartment and finding things to make myself more comfortable at home one day. Going recruiting with the field worker another day, and out for lunch another day. I had created things to look forward to.

Then I started adding in things I wanted to do: learning the piano, getting back to brewing beer and programming again.

As time went along I became happier and more content with my life than I ever had before. That is not to say it was all good times. I certainly had bad days. Depressions. Drama. Family problems. All like I’d have before. Although now I knew there were going to be good times too. I had stuff to look forward to despite all that. I may not have been “happy” that day, but it was better than similar days before.

I redid an old recliner. It took me five months; there were plenty of days I was depressed and didn’t feel like doing anything. Although I could research what kind of vinyl I needed, what kind of speakers or how to make it a gaming chair. I probably only actually worked on that recliner about six days. Although it was something to think about and enjoy during that whole depression that year. It helped keep me out of the hospital. It helped get rid of suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to die; I wanted to finish my recliner.

I became content with my apartment, myself and my life.

I still have to work at these things all the time. There were times that state funding got cut and the 12-step program shut down. I had to find other purposes for myself. My depression started becoming treatment resistant. Most of my family passed. I still have to continue to work at making myself happy. At times I’ve struggled.

Although I’ve learned how to do it now. I just have to keep working at it.

For most of the time that I was learning I had a 12-step program hold my hand. You can have a counselor or a therapist of any kind help you with this. It’s so much easier than going alone.

I hope you achieve happiness in your life. I wish you the best.

Image via contributor

Originally published: August 30, 2020
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