Diagram of w:Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
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Health is a concept that is not easily defined. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of desease or infirmity.”

They are saying that health is a lot more than just the absence of disease. It is much more than that. But good health usually comes down to personal responsibility: choosing to live a healthy lifestyle or an unhealthy one. It is our choice.

It doesn’t help that the media and food industry are loaded with messages encouraging poor health. Most of the food manufactured and produced in the US, for example, is junk filled with disease causing chemicals and stripped of almost all nutrition. And we wonder why there is a cancer epidemic in the US?

There are 4 main steps to a healthy lifestyle.

  1. A healthy, optimistic attitude filled with gratitude, forgiveness, love and nourishing, supportive relationships.
  2. A healthy diet, of mostly raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes.
  3. Adequate supplementation to add what we cannot get from our normal diets. This includes fruit extracts such as resveratrol and hormones such as melatonin and dhea.
  4. Exercise and movement. It doesn’t have to be going to the gym and benching 300 lbs. Anything that involves moving, from simple household chores to walks to gardening have shown to keep our bodies healthier, leaner, more flexible and more resistant to aging and disease. Keep moving.

Probably the most important of the 4 is a positive mental attitude. Our thoughts are so powerful that they radiate chemical messages to every cell in our bodies 24 hours a day. Either your body is going to respond to those messages by releasing healthy chemicals or by releasing toxic stress hormones. Which do you prefer?

More evidence is showing the intimate connection between the mind and the body. When the mind is unbalanced and stressed, depressed and fearful, our bodies eventually respond and break down. We become ill, stricken with one disease or another.

When it comes to mental health, perhaps one of the greatest contributors to our modern day understanding comes from a great innovator in the field of psychology, Abraham Maslow. He gave us the notion of “self-actualization“, in which a person becomes the person they were meant to be at their highest capacity – when a person lives up to their fullest potential. It is fulfilling our talents and dreams, finding our purpose in life and accomplishing it.

As he put it, self-actualization is a process of “ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities, talents, as fulfillment of a mission  (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation) as a full knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person’s own intrinsic nature, as an increasing trend toward unity, integration, or synergy within the person.”

Using our talents to the fullest, finding a purpose for living, and becoming whole within, which means connecting with the outside world.

Maslow was the first great psychologist to study healthy people instead of sick ones. This helped give him his unique insight into an understanding of what it means to be healthy. Most self-actualized people have several things they share in common.

  • A balanced personality has a realistic and accurate perception of reality. Such people have more realistic expectations of themselves and others, are more accepting and less critical, and have a clear understanding of their limitations and strengths. They are more accepting of their weaknesses and limitations.
  • Of course, such people still feel negative emotions like everyone: sadness, anxiety, envy, fear, but they can keep things in perspective and not become obsessed and stuck in their negative emotions. They pull out of it with their positive thinking.
  • Most self-actualized people are spontaneous, meaning they can do things at the spur of the moment without having to have everything planned out beforehand. This spontaneity is a sign that they are mentally flexible and adaptable, not rigid and stuck in certain, possibly unhealthy, patterns. They can go with the flow.
  • The healthiest people take the center of attention off themselves and put in on a cause or mission or purpose larger than and outside of themselves. Perhaps they are involved in politics, or saving the environment, or volunteering at the local church or hospital. Whatever it may be, they don’t obsess about their problems. The look to help solve the problems of others.
  • Self-actualized people tend to be quite independent, detached from the unimportant little things most people get upset about, and value their privacy and solitude. They are comfortable with themselves and don’t always need the approval of others to be productive or feel good about themselves.
  • Healthy people have a rich capacity to enjoy the simple things in life. Good food, a walk in nature, music or sex. They are not inhibited by feelings of guilt or shame. They accept their nature and feel good about pleasing themselves. Even the simplest things in life give them a feeling of wonder and awe. They appreciate life and are grateful for what they have.
  • Self-actualized people have usually had some kind of mystical or life-altering experience that has awakened them spiritually. Often it is a tragedy or loss of a loved one, which forces them to discover who they really are, what they really value, and see that there is more to life than what they usually experience on a mundane level. They see life as an awe-inspiring mystery and miracle.
  • The ability to get outside of ourselves, our own egos, and care about others is critical to a healthy lifestyle. The capacity to love, feel compassion and empathy for others, makes us feel better about ourselves. Helping a homeless person. Stopping to give someone directions. Healthy relationships fill the heart and soul.
  • Healthy people have a voice and are not afraid to use it. If they see something they don’t like, they will say so. They are not passive victims of life but choose their path, make responsible decisions for their own care and boundaries.
  • They tend to have fewer but very intimate friendships, rather than 100 “acquaintances.” This shows they have the capacity for genuine relationship – not just superficial connections.
  • Healthy people tend to be humble, not arrogant. The are “democratic” in that they see and treat others as equals, with a sense of fairness and integrity. They are not condescending to others, nor do they feel superior to them. They find something to appreciate and learn from in everyone.
  • Healthy people have a strong ethical and moral sense, but not necessarily conventional. They have strong principles, but they reach those principles by thinking for themselves and arriving at their own conclusions. They don’t blindly follow others, but have a sense of confidence in their own intuition and wisdom.
  • Healthy people have a healthy sense of humor. That means they don’t laugh “at” people so much as “with” them, and can definitely laugh at themselves. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and go through life with a light-hearted, joyful attitude. They like to laugh and laugh often. Laughter has been shown to release healthy chemicals in the body, and is now used in the therapy and treatment of many diseases.
  • Self-actualization means learning to be creative. Creativity is the essence of life, and the more we can create the deeper the well from which we can drink. The act of creation, music, painting, being yourself, etc,  is healing to the soul and makes us feel genuinely useful to others and society. A strong, wild imagination adds passion and zest to your life. Read books.

We don’t become self-actualized in one day or week or year. It takes a lifetime. But as our lives unfold they can become beautiful. But we need to make wise decisions, live a healthy lifestyle with integrity and morality, and take action to attract the things into our lives that will make them more fulfilling and whole. Start writing that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Start a web business. Go back to school for a degree you’ve always dreamed about. Get some counselling for addictions. Do, do but do.