Therapy isn’t (only) about “fixing” what’s “wrong.” It’s really about improving something we call wellness. Wellness means “doing OK” (or better) in various areas of your life: socially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. In other words, enjoying life. To do this, to really be well, you need to be building resources.
What are Resources?
Put simply, resources are things that help us. No person is an island. No one survives alone. From the moment we awaken to the time we sleep, we are using things and ideas created by other people, and we are connecting with other people, in a variety of ways. Many of those things help us. These are external resources. We also have internal resources, things that come from inside ourselves. Finding and strengthening our resources improves wellness.
Relationships are our most important external resources. Having positive connections with friends, family and colleagues creates physical and mental health. Likewise, not having such connections often creates both physical and mental illness (there is solid research on this). So if you want to improve your life significantly, here is a simple way: connect. Make a new friend. Take a colleague out for lunch. Call a family member you like that you haven’t talked with in a while. Help a stranger. Volunteer. Go to a church or social event. Doing any of these can increase your social connections, improve your health and actually lengthen your life.
You can sometimes also improve things by reducing your exposure to negative social situations. Have a friend that you talk to for hours until you’re exhausted? Set a boundary for yourself. Are some of your family interactions distressing? Find a way to reduce the distress (stop trying to be too “helpful”, or try to spend less time arguing about things that won’t change, etc.)
Building social resources helps heal depression and trauma, as well as enhancing current physical and mental health. If you have a choice between making more money and making more friends, for example, you may want to consider this.
Hobbies and interests can be an amazing resource, especially if they give you energy. Gardening, artistic endeavors (crafts, woodworking, painting, music), service work (volunteering at the animal shelter)—these can be excellent resources. Even some pampering, like taking time for a hot bath instead of just showering or perhaps getting a massage, can be helpful.
Of course, things like a good diet, daily (or almost daily) exercise and sufficient sleep are vital activities—and therefore good resources.
Internal resources are anything you think about that’s positive and calming. They range from things like good memories or accomplishments of the past to gratitude or even hopes and dreams for the future. Having a religious faith or a positive philosophy of life are also examples. Spending time thinking of the good things in your life is known to be helpful. Here’s an exercise: Take a few minutes each night before bed to write down three things that went well that day and what you did that helped them go well. A simple list with a few sentences on each one. Research has shown that doing this improves happiness. How cool is that?
Developing your resources, bit by bit and day by day is a great way to improve your life. The great psychiatrist and therapist Milton Erickson said something like this (speaking of his patients in therapy): People are well when they are able to access the resources they need when they need them. I think that’s a great way of thinking about health.