The seat of everything in the human world is the brain. Not just by our thoughts, but also in the way we gather information through our senses and react to situations and encounters. When we hear stories in the news, when we see a pair of shoes we would like to wear, when we look at our loved ones’ faces—each time, the brain allows us to process what we are experiencing and to respond. And its well-being is essential if we want to live the best life possible, whether as individuals or as part of a greater community.
The brain’s physical needs are easy to understand. It is an organ that requires energy just like any other organ; we can’t take for granted the value of a healthy lifestyle in maintaining good brain health.
But the psychological needs of the brain can be trickier to navigate.
Many of today’s problems stem from psychological deficits that create division and disharmony in communities and worldwide. For example, we might be unable to say no to food and drink we know are not good for us, or perhaps we tend to harbor ill feelings toward another person or a social class. Most of the time, these behaviors are acquired early during childhood. But that does not mean they are set in stone.
While emotional imperfections may be part of being human, we can combat our own deficits with an important set of tools: three mental skills that help us think positively about ourselves and those around us and to behave in a more cooperative way. These three essential tools are self-compassion, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking, and they are key to our emotional well-being.
Self-Compassion and Emotional Well-Being
In order for us to live well, we have to feel good about ourselves and our situation, including our own thoughts, actions, and yes, failures and regrets. We cannot do good by others without being able to extend the same love and compassion to ourselves; we cannot value the lives of others if we do not first love and value our own lives. Self-compassion, the first essential tool, teaches us to be kind to ourselves, to treat ourselves like we would the people we care most about. Only once we have learned to value our whole selves—not just certain aspects—will we be able to do the same for others.
At the core of self-compassion is the notion that human imperfection is a shared, universal experience: all people are imperfect. All people fail. With self-compassion, we stop being critical and judgmental to our imperfect selves, knowing that it is human to fail and feel inadequate. Self-compassion informs us we can forgive ourselves, accept and acknowledge our imperfections, and allow ourselves to try again.
Although it seems individually focused, self-compassion is vital to living well within community. If we ever hope to have compassion for others, we must develop self-compassion.
Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Wellbeing
Once we begin showing compassion to ourselves, we are more ready to build successful relationships at work, in the community, and in our personal lives. Emotional intelligence teaches us to control or temper our own emotional response by acknowledging the emotional needs of others. Notice that it goes beyond mere understanding or acceptance of others’ emotional needs: it seeks to manage and accommodate those needs, which effectively reduces conflict. Even more importantly, it leaves room for collaboration, making for a more successful, supportive human community.
Critical Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing
Self-compassion allows us to consider our own needs when we are making decisions. Emotional intelligence encourages us to consider the needs of others too. But balancing these considerations is not an easy thing, given human egos and emotions. This is where the third essential tool comes in: critical thinking.
Critical thinking means we weigh competing needs and interests, acknowledge prejudice and biases, and, using logical reasoning based on sound evidence, make informed, intelligent decisions. When we think critically, we will more likely arrive at the best decision.
If we practice using these three essential tools—self-compassion, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking—then we can more effectively pursue and attain good health, financial stability, and a community to belong to, all of which are very important to our well-being. But more than that: if we are working on becoming more self-compassionate and more emotionally intelligent and developing our critical thinking skills, we will be equipped to solve problems beyond our own, so that we can all win individually and collectively.