The Right to Pursue Happiness: What That Means for Mental Health

The Right to Pursue Happiness: What That Means for Mental Health

Human rights, invariably, have existed since the first human. However, it’s only been in the last few hundred years that we have started to recognize that each human being has inalienable rights that they are born with. Even now, despite organizations like the United Nations, there are no worldwide accepted standards of human rights, and it’s still the subject of much debate.

Philosophical or moral discussions on human rights have probably been taking place for hundreds or thousands of years, but it wasn’t until movements like the European Enlightenment, the American Revolution, or the French Revolution that governments or societies started recognizing the legality of basic human rights.

Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on December 10 to mark the anniversary of the United Nations adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While this is not a legally binding document, it is viewed as a gesture of good faith that sets down a baseline guide for what is to be expected for human rights now and in the future.

Some of the Human Rights laid out by documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution of the United States, or the Declaration of Independence include:

  • Freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press, petition
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Freedom from slavery
  • Freedom from unfair detainment and the right to trial
  • The right to privacy
  • Freedom of thought and expression
  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

When we think about the pursuit of happiness, how do we apply this to everyday life?

What the real meaning of the “pursuit of happiness” is has been hotly debated for hundreds of years. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that happiness itself is different for everyone.

Maybe happiness for you is financial success. Maybe it’s spending time with the ones you love. Maybe it’s finding yourself committed to lasting, meaningful work that benefits the world or your community.

There are no wrong answers, only right ones. If you ask me, good mental health is like money – it won’t make you happy, but it’ll sure make it easier to get there. Happiness is less fleeting when you don’t have to worry about the dark days of depression or PTSD.

Pursuing happiness by way of supporting mental health is another method that has likely existed for all time, under different names and sometimes misunderstood. For centuries, people have been exercising and engaging in sports — unknowingly contributing to a better state of mental health.

In 2020, for all its catastrophes and losses, there is some to be thankful for. We are living in the first time in all of human history where mental health treatment is not only possible but likely to help you and your symptoms. What’s more, with new treatments, we stand at the precipice of a new age of treatment that is hard to picture from where we are right now.

Don’t think that this means that struggling with mental health prevents you from being happy. Even in your best times, you’re going to have bad days. There is no medicine or treatment ever invented, nor will there ever be, that can cure bad days. But taking care of yourself, finding treatment for what ails you, can make them easier to navigate.

Pursuing mental health treatment doesn’t mean what it used to. In early times, scholars believed mental disorder to be the work of supernatural forces or “humors” within the body that needed balancing. Ancient physicians were close in some ways, but remained far off from the true causes of mental health disorders.

So too are we beginning to see, thanks to modern medicine, that the things we don’t know about our minds absolutely dwarf what we do know. The difference is now that we are beginning to see the multitude of ways you can support the health of your mind.

For some people, it’s as simple as antidepressants. Others might find mental relief in a rigorous schedule and consistent exercise. Maybe it’s yoga, or meditation, or psychedelic medicine. Maybe it’s dedicated therapy sessions or counseling. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it works for you.

The greatest trick mental health conditions can pull on you is convincing you that your future is hopeless. Know this – you have an inalienable, unmistakable right to pursue good mental health. In fact, you have a responsibility to yourself to exhaust your options until you find what makes you healthy and happy. There is no time better than right now to get started.

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