Hello my dear happiness nerds, welcome (back)!
Today is World Mental Health Day and for this day I prepared something special (the WHO has, too). Let’s see how you’ll like it, it’s a first on The Happiness Nerd, and I’m a bit nervous (spoiler alert: it’s personal). We’ll get to it in a second, but first I want to write a few more words on mental health. It’s a topic very dear to me, which might seem like a no-brainer, since I’m a trained psychologist. Yet, you wouldn’t believe how blind many psychologists (let alone non-psychologists) are to the topic of mental health. I’m not talking about clinical psychologists, who are the ones dedicating their lives to offering relieve and support through psychotherapy, rehabilitation, and guidance (and even there you’ll surely find some bad apples). It may come as a surprise to some, but there are many other kinds of psychologists. They work in fields as diverse as personnel selection, advertising, consulting, politics, engineering, city planning, web design, data science, education, environmental protection, and scientific research. As I’m most familiar with the latter, I’ll just quickly comment on that.
In my time as a PhD student, I’ve seen a lot of poor mental health. With that I mean colleagues, who were constantly stressed, some to the point of burnout, colleagues with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, and colleagues with strong narcissistic tendencies (I’m talking about tendencies, because it would be unprofessional to diagnose them with an actual disorder without having used the appropriate interview and/or self-report measures). All of them weren’t nearly as happy as they could have been under healthier circumstances. There were cases of emotional abuse by supervisors and even suicides. All this in Switzerland, a country of incredible wealth, stability, and the most sophisticated infrastructure I’ve ever seen (also in terms of psychological support). Also, a country of marvelous nature, clean air, and some of the most delicious water you’ll ever try. But all that doesn’t help, if you’re stuck in an office 24/7 (even if it’s a home office) or stress out over the next deadline or your precarious future every waking minute of the day. Worse yet, from conversations and some reading on the topic, the situation seems to be even more dire in other countries and some other scientific fields (I’m looking at you, cancer biology!).
What to do about it? Clearly, there are many ways, in which the international scientific community, the various national and local governments, and the individual universities and research groups could alleviate much of this needless suffering (obviously, the individual has some responsibility, too). And I say “needless” because let’s get real: None of our research papers, which will only be skimmed by a few dozen experts anyways, will save the world. That’s why I’d like to plead in favor of just taking it all down one notch. Whatever it takes. Collectively. In psychological science, but also everywhere else in society. Let’s take one step away from harder, better, stronger, faster (even though it’s a fantastic song!) and one step towards softer, modester, vulnerabler, slower (I know two of them aren’t actual words – maybe they should be!). Let’s strive for good enough. Let’s find ourselves, our lives, and the people around us good enough. Perfection is impossible anyways. Today’s world record will be outclassed in a generation or less. Let’s take real breaks from time to time and find the peace we can then share with the world.
And there’s the transition to the actual centerpiece of this now longer than expected post: A poem that I wrote a few days ago. It is based on some profound experiences I had this year, some of which have led me to start this blog. It was nudged by my favorite podcast at the moment, Jack Kornfield’s Heart Wisdom Hour. If you can look past the occasional supernatural and reincarnation talk, you might find this podcast as inspirational, eye-opening, and heart-warming as I do.
And now, without further ado, please enjoy my poem!
a moment on the way
once this year i truly rested,
felt like it was all i needed.
poems came and went
and strung my strings
and let them sing
and let them quiet down again.
time has passed and so has rest
my strings untouched by poem’s flight.
still, today the grandest scene:
a wind-shook tree with rustling leaves.
see, i rustled, too, with them
among them swaying with the way.
there i was or, actually, wasn’t,
instead was leaf, was wind, was rustle.
was more than ever was before
and wished for nothing more to ever be.
i left myself to find myself.
to truly rest in wordless poetry.
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