If there’s one essential element to achieving and maintaining mental health, it’s the consistent use of reason. When people think of reason, they usually think of someone detached from his emotions, cold like a computer, like Spock from Star Trek. But, using reason doesn’t mean repressing one’s emotions, but rather understanding your emotions and making sure they’re based on facts.
Reason means to use our minds (through the process of logic) to identify the facts of reality, and then use that knowledge to guide our lives. Reason, quite plainly, is the only means we have for gathering and validating knowledge, understanding the world around us, understanding ourselves, making decisions, solving problems, and choosing and pursuing goals and values. Emotions cannot provide this—they can only tell us we are feeling something. Mystical revelation will also not guide us. We cannot look to the stars, a God, or tarot cards to tell us how to live our lives or how to make healthy choices. Reason is not infallible and we can make mistakes, but it’s the only tool we have for survival, so we must use it, and use it to the best of our ability.
Reason is not only used to understand the reality around us, but also our internal reality. The process of using reason to look inward and understand our psychology is called introspection, and it’s a required skill for mental health and happiness.
Anytime you want to understand yourself better psychologically, introspection is the tool of choice. It involves two main questions: What am I feeling and Why am I feeling it? It also involves knowing that our emotions come from the beliefs we hold in relation to our values, and that every emotion has a theme, a fundamental meaning.
For example, let’s say you identify that you’re feeling sad. Sadness is the emotion of loss, specifically, the loss of a value. For example, if you believe you’ve lost a friend, a job you really wanted, or your own self-esteem, you’ll feel sad. The sadness comes from your perception of the loss and the fact that the thing (the friend, job, or self-esteem) you lost was a value to you. The bigger the loss, the stronger the sadness.
Whenever you’re feeling sad and you’re not sure why, you can introspect and ask yourself: “What value do I think I’ve lost?” and that will help you figure out where the sadness is coming from. In addition, sometimes our beliefs turn out to be mistaken once we evaluate them or gain more knowledge. For example, you think a friend is furious at you and that she doesn’t want to be friends anymore, and you feel sad as a result. After talking with the friend, you learn that she is only slightly mad, and she never thought of ending the friendship, which makes you feel relieved and the sadness goes away.
Introspection can be used to understand any emotion you’re feeling; it only requires some knowledge of how to use it and some practice. It’s a vital skill taught in good psychotherapy to help individuals understand themselves better and resolve mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Introspection is an invaluable tool of reason that anyone wanting to achieve mental health and happiness needs in their arsenal.