Goodness and Mental Health

People claim that mental health and ethics are two completely different, and mutually exclusive, things.

They’re not. What does ethics consist of? Essentially, taking responsibility for your actions. “Taking responsibility” implies a lot of different things. These things include: focusing, concentrating, considering all the relevant facts of a situation, looking at things objectively (including yourself), and using rational thought to plan sensible, self-interested action.

How in the world could you ever act responsibly without a proper mental state of mind? And won’t acting responsibly lead to a proper state of mind? The two are clearly related.

People who take responsibility do so because they are in full focus of reality. Reality matters to them, and they develop the skills required to best master it. They don’t try to get around reality. Instead, they work within the “system” of facts and logical reasoning about those facts.

Being realistic and self-responsible doesn’t mean you cannot be innovative, think out of the box, and even end up doing rational things that at first, on the surface, seem contradictory. But people who take responsibility, by definition, do not evade relevant facts, or attempt to wish them away as they go about taking action. This would be the essence of both unethical and mentally unsound behavior.

A conventional, but mistaken, definition of ethics and morality refers to your relationship with other people. In other words, you’re judged as moral or immoral based on how you treat other people. But how you treat other people is only an offshoot of how you treat yourself, and your life. If you treat and view life as valuable, important and serious, then you’re going to be a perfectly peaceful and productive citizen. By definition, you’re not going to be harming others. You might disappoint, hurt or anger others who want you to act or think in different ways. But so long as you’re leaving others alone, you’re doing no harm to them, regardless of what they claim. You’re never harming another by refusing to do what they want. Disappointment and harm are not the same thing. No matter what anyone else says, as long as you leave them alone, and as long as you don’t mislead or deceive them, you’re not harming them. You’re not harming others by choosing to live for yourself.

The people who harm others are reckless, unfocused and illogical. If they’re being this way to others, by definition they’re being this way to themselves, and about life. The solution isn’t for them to become more considerate of others, although that would be nice. The solution is for them to become more considerate of themselves, taking more care to live their own lives by rational and sensible standards.

“Should I be a good person, or a happy person?” The question poses a completely wrong and false alternative. In order to be a truly good person, it’s necessary for you to achieve and pursue happiness, and to do the rational things required to make that happen. If you give up on being happy, you’re not going to be very good — at least, not as good as you might be. Goodness and happiness go hand in hand. They’re logically and inevitably intertwined.

“Am I a bad person if I’m not happy?” No, not necessarily. Not if you’re sincerely trying, and not if you refuse to give up. The pursuit of happiness is a productive effort in itself. Many people who are unhappy suffer not from being bad people, but from false or unrealistic expectations. For example, they think that they need certain things to make them happy that they don’t really need. Or, they think they can pursue two perfectly legitimate goals that unfortunately contradict one another. Mistakes in thinking and assumptions lead to unhappiness. However, if you’re a good person and you’re committed to always thinking (which includes identifying and correcting mistakes) the possibility of happiness is always there for you. If you’re irrational, if you treat life and yourself recklessly, if you deliberately evade or ignore facts right in front of your face, facts that are necessary for happiness and even survival, then you’re never going to be happy.

It’s a myth that people cannot change. The possibility of change is always there. All one has to do is think, and then take responsible action which honors that thinking. Good ideas and the integrity to act on them will light everything up, and make an individual both happy and ethical.