Suicide is a deep, sad, and tragic topic, and one I’ve not written about extensively.
This time though, I’ve decided not to be silent. Suicide, mental illness, and addiction are all on the rise in this country and I want to help.
One of my friends, whose friend’s daughter committed suicide in college confronted with me with a simple question:
You’re really good on this topic…….what is wrong in our culture in regards to mental health, and what can we do to fix it?
I’ve been studying and practicing health, fitness, and wellness for 20 years, and I’ve learned a lot about the subject of mental health, particularly when it comes to physical activity and mental health, but this question shook me because of the pointedly tragic news of 3 suicides.
I told my friend I would think about it and get back to her. Not wanting to delay for very long, I sent her an email in a few days and told her that I thought we had our values misaligned in America and were valuing the wrong things. We place a high amount of value on materially present things - money, pleasure, status, experience, but often very little value on healthy things - faith, family, friends, art, nature, community, learning, physical activity, achievement, and spirituality.
The more I thought about it, the more I believe this is the correct answer to my friend’s question.
What we are missing in our culture is making transcendent values a priority.
What I mean by that is that we are not valuing things which transcend the day to day, and it is affecting our health. We have to focus our minds and efforts on things that transcend. We need to do the opposite of what most people do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with meeting our basic biological and physiological needs, but they only form the foundation of our existence as human beings. We are more than animals. Life is about more than the day to day. The disenchantment of the world spiritually has left us all with a big hangover. There is no “story” that people are living in which pushes us to get outside of ourselves, and it’s causing mental illness. Trapped in our own momentary and often whimsical desires and feelings, many of us are struggling, addicted, and sad.
As John Milton said ….
“The mind is its own place. It can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.”
What is the danger with only valuing material goods and having a solely biological, rationalistic outlook?
These things change and can be taken away.
Placing our happiness, and meaning, and identity solely in pleasure, status, and experiences is dangerous and unhealthy.
Husbands leave. Jobs are lost. We get old. Money is stolen. People die. The vacation ends. Companies go out of business. The high is eventually over with. There's nothing wrong with material goods or present-moment experiences, but they cannot and should not be the most valued things. This is not healthy. I wrote about this in Movement & Meaning, when I pointed out the transcendent nature of things like Special Olympics or the Beltline project which combine transcendent values with physical activity.
Why are transcendent values the most important? Because they are unchanging and they help form a healthy, unshakeable, and strong identity.
Transcendent values orient us towards true health.
We can always contemplate ultimate truth.
We can always enjoy beauty.
We can always have friendships.
We can always enjoy art.
We can always live in community.
We can always learn.
We can always move and be active.
We can always have goals.
We can always worship and contemplate the creator.
We can always be outdoors.
We can always give of ourselves to others.
We can always believe.
When we value these things, then we'll be healthy.
And these things are free.
Transcendent things don’t cost anything, but they require us to look at the world in a different way. We have to reorient ourselves towards more ultimate things, good things, while not neglecting the material world of the day to day. There’s nothing wrong with pleasures, and experiences, and having nice things. But we’re tired, we're exhausted, and we need to re-focus. We need a healthy identity.
One reason modern politics has become so ever-present and exhausting is that it is the only thing left in our culture that people latch on to with a religious fervor which seems to transcend. Without a focus on the divine, or on spirituality, or on transcendence, people are drawn to that which seems to take them outside of themselves.
I’ve just wrapped up a year’s worth of work on freedom, and it’s relationship to health. The subject of the transcendent fits very well with freedom, because it reorients us towards a posture of peace and happiness, valuing healthy things.
I am finishing a book this year on the topic of freedom and health, and I will release the name of it soon, but considering the circumstances, I wanted to go ahead and get this out there.
If we want to live in a healthy culture, we have to prioritize transcendent values.
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