Organizations like the United Nations and additional related U.S. organizations have recently been focused on identifying factors that are negatively and positively impacting a person’s mental health. Funding the police and related organizations, the war on poverty, and defending the country against world opponents generally have been key ways to determine how people were feeling about their safety and mental health. The psychological community has been advocating for many years now for a more helpful way to measure a person’s well-being and quality of life. One of the ways that psychologists and clinical therapists suggest how to measure a person’s quality of life, i.e., mental health, is to measure their eudaimonic well-being (EWB).

Eudaimonic well-being (EWB) ­refers to a person’s perception of meaningfulness, a sense of purpose, and value of their life.[1] A colleague of mine insightfully brought to my attention that mental health is not simply the absence of disease or illness. The absence of illness may not bring about human thriving. I am often shocked when a patient begins to improve with their symptoms and informs me they are ready to end treatment. I am not advocating that patients need to stay in therapy for years, however. Reducing symptoms does not suggest, always, a person will maintain their mental health status. I often witness people regress in functioning after a few months; people with dissociative states may often believe that normal functioning is not dissociating all the time. EWB must be the new baseline to determine human flourishing.

EWB helps a person satisfy basic psychological needs that are universal. Scientists have reviewed these psychological needs in depth over the last few decades. Basic psychological in general are autonomy, competency, and connectedness. I want to highlight one major psychological need in this section of the paper. The need to be autonomous is vital for human thriving. Autonomy does not mean isolating yourself and not relying on others to help you throughout your life. Rather, autonomy is a psychological construct that represents an experience of self-confidence in completing normal tasks daily. Self-confidence does not come from acquiring educational degrees, certifications, or self-comparing. Self-confidence is best understood through a first-person perspective; a person must believe in herself that she possesses the innate ability to complete a task, regardless of difficulty level. EWB can be the missing link to bringing about human flourishing. EWB researchers suggest that autonomy grants people the opportunity to seek EWB.

Adam Smith, an important social and political writer in the U.S., many decades ago declared that a government system’s effectiveness must be determined by the wellness of the people these systems govern. In comparison, government bodies can miss the mark in taking notice of the general well-being of their constituency. Special interests can taint governing bodies to promote political agendas that leave American citizens vulnerable to exploitation. Governing bodies create conditions that bring about coercion, not human flourishing. EWB-informed strategies and ethical governing bodies create policies and elect officials that prioritize the quality-of-life people. EWB can minimize trauma symptoms even when the nation fails to support its well-being.

EWB-led initiatives may allow people to pursue contentment and joy again. I have patients that I meet with each week who experience hopelessness, lack of meaning, and cycles of depression. These experiences largely stem from mental health illnesses related to trauma. One major result of these experiences is their perception of the future appears dreary. A major reason for cognitive decline in adulthood is the lack of activity in the prefrontal cortex. Feelings of dreariness minimize activity in this area of the brain. When the brain remains inactive in the cortex for long periods of time, a patient can experience severe states of sadness among other negative effects. Excitedly, however, international government bodies are responding to mental health disparities they are seeing among their constituency. In 2011, the UN General Assembly declared the pursuit of happiness and joy is a “fundamental goal”[2] for all humans to pursue. In 2022, policies continue to be discussed that may allow conditions to be set in societies to bring about EWB. Amid the chaos, EWB emphasis can be the missing link we are looking for to bring about true healing in communities. Human dignity demands action.

[1] Martela et al., 2023


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