What is a healthy relationship?+comment
This past weekend I was listening to Krista Tippett’s interview with Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry who also studies brain imaging and behavior, and is the founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. A good portion of his research has focused on studying the brains of meditating Buddhist Monks.
As I was listening to the interview, it struck me that this was the first time I thought about how much emphasis in the mental health field is put on fixing sickness, instead of nurturing health. As a culture we are beginning to learn that if we want our bodies to be healthy, it isn’t good enough to wait until something goes wrong and then try and fix it. We now understand that to be truly healthy is to understand what our bodies need, and to act accordingly. I’m a big believer in preventative medicine, but I guess I never made the connection that the same is true of one’s mental health. There’s a good reason for that. Few people talk about it. After all, as Davidson points out in this interview, the ‘classic 6’ emotions which are the foundation of western psychology are fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise and happiness. So that’s four negative emotions, one positive, and a neutral emotion as surprise can be either good or bad. Is that really how we view our emotional landscape? No wonder so many people are depressed.
The good news is that Davidson’s research on the neuroscience of meditation shows that our brains are much more changeable than previously thought. We can literally remap the way we are wired for the better and for the worse, and so people like Davidson are beginning to create tools that us non-Buddhist monks can use to have healthier minds. I love that idea.
The interview is fascinating, and is definitely worth a listen. But it also got me thinking about relationships. We often categorize relationships as either ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. If we think of mental health as the absence of mental illness, are we guilty of falling into the same narrow definition when it comes to a healthy relationship? Do we think healthy relationships are simply ones that aren’t unhealthy? And is that the best we can do? I’m excited by the idea that focusing on wellness, be it in our bodies, our minds or in our love-lives, can change the paradigm of simply focusing on fixing the negative and instead on nurturing the positive.