RAISING CHILDREN WHO MAKE HEALTHY CHOICES
by Paul Schmidt, PhD
During the Covid pandemic, many people became overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, addictions, and traumatic abuse. Suicide and murder rates accelerated. Problems like these had been growing for decades in their own silent epidemics. Especially at times like these, we worry that our children and grandchildren walk out every day to a world with growing lies, hatred, division, and distrust.
Yet I’ve been encouraged that somehow, a few brave, resilient souls are taking better care of themselves and their neighbors than they did before. Even if their families, their bodies, or their bank accounts are getting worse, some wise people are healthier personally, even during distressing times. They seem to have found vaccines and ventilators for their souls. What is this wellbeing they have, and where did they get it?
Surveys of professional literature on the subject review theories and research about what wellbeing is, and where it comes from. Sadly, all the recent reviews conclude there has been no agreement in recent decades on either a model or even a definition to help us understand what wellbeing is, or how to grow personal wellness in ourselves or others. So where else could we turn?
History sheds considerable light on this subject. About a hundred years ago, trusted authorities in medicine, psychotherapy, and organized religion began selling us more profit-driven pictures of the good life. But for the preceding 1500 years in Western civilization, experts in these fields shared widespread agreement about what wellness was, and where it came from. Across all culture and religions, the doctors, counselors, and other healing professionals usually agreed on four keys to wellness.
KEYS TO WELLNESS
· Believe in a power higher than yourself, a creative source for life, health, and wellness. Forces of darkness and death need not be feared, if they’re offset by trusting in a higher, stronger force for healthy life.
· Believe that this power somehow lives in people, and inside of you. You need not worry about whether people will give you the things you most need for the good life, because they are welling up within you fresh every day, and the more you give them away, the more you have.
· Balance your concern for self and others. Don’t care about yourself and your family more or less then you care about your neighbor. Don’t love people who help you and your family more than you love people who need your help.
· Care about the fullness of time, looking at past, future, and especially the present. Seeing what the past shows is good for all concerned in the long run, you’ll try to leave the world a better place.
How would we know if these beliefs and caring behaviors work to increase wellbeing? The first test of this model has already been passed, the test of time. It has worked for 1600 years. The second test is face validity: common sense says it should work.
But what about research? Until fifty years ago, such matters were thought to be beyond the scope of science, and couldn’t be proved. But that changed in the 1970’s, and dozens of social scientists started researching the healthiness of traditional beliefs and lifestyles embodying the four keys to wellness above. The evidence is clear and getting stronger all the time: people who live by these keys have physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier lives.
Life brings us all experiences that immediately effect our self-worth and self-confidence, for better or worse. We decide whether we are sharing our strength or consuming theirs, whether we are eating the soul food of others or sharing our own. Our choices are greaty affected by where our experiences come from: from selfish people or sources, or from unselfish ones.
And the healthiness of our response depends mostly on what are we hoping to inspire in ourselves or others. Our unhealthy responses come from a mindset of self-centered emptiness. We want to take what others have to make us feel better immediately, at their expense. The more we take from others, the more we want, because the things we take from others will cause our buckets to leak.
Our healthier responses come from a mindset of confident fullness. We believe that the more we share with others the good things we have received, the more we have to give, from an intangible wellspring inside. It’s simple: healthy responses make us and others well, and unhealthy choices make us and others sick.
I can add clinical observation. I’ve heard the life stories of 7000 people poured out in my office, and I have seen them try everything under the sun to turn anxiety and depression into love and happiness. I’ve seen nothing that works like these four keys, which give rise to the mindset of over-flowing fulllness.
The final validation came from the good souls at Shelby Life magazine. It looked right to them, so when they saw this article, they asked me to write nine more, written for readers who want their children and grandchildren to make healthier choices than the culture around them. Next time I’ll teach you how this understanding of wellness can prepare you to teach younger loved ones to feel safe in all situations, even bullying, trauma, and abuse.