Traits and Behaviors of Mental Heath
"Although no group of authorities fully agree on a definition of the
term mental health, it seems seems to include several traits
and behaviors that are frequently endorsed by leading theorists and
therapists (e.g., Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Karen
Horney, Erich Fromm, Rudolf Dreikurs, Fritz Perls, Abraham Maslow,
Marie Jahoda, Carol Rodgers, Rollo May, Albert Ellis, etc.).
These include such traits as self-interest, self-direction, social
interest, tolerance, acceptance of ambiguity and uncertainty,
flexibility, acceptance of social reality,
commitment, risk taking, self-acceptance, rationality and
scientific thinking. Not all mentally healthy individuals
possess the highest degree of these traits at all times, but when
people seriously lack them or when they have extreme opposing
behaviors, we often consider them to be at least somewhat
Emotionally healthy people are primarily true to themselves and do
not subjugate themselves or unduly sacrifice
themselves for others. Realizing that if they do not primarily
take care of themselves no one else will, they tend to put
themselves first, a few selected others a close second, and the rest
of the world not too far behind.
Self-Direction: Mentally healthy people largely assume
responsibility for their own lives, enjoy the independence of mainly
working out their own problems, and, while at times wanting or
preferring the help of others, do not think that they absolutely
must have such support for their effectiveness and well-being.
Emotionally and mentally healthy people are normally gregarious and
decide to try to live happily in a social group. Because they
want to live successfully with others, and usually to relate
intimately to a few of these selected others, they work at feeling
and displaying a considerable degree of social interest and
Emotionally healthy people tend to give other humans the right to be
wrong. While disliking or abhorring other's behavior,
they refuse to condemn them as total persons for
performing poor behavior. They fully accept the fact that all
humans seem to be remarkably fallible; they refrain from
unrealistically demanding and commanding that any of them be
perfect; and they desist from damning people in toto when they err.
Acceptance of Ambiguity and
Emotionally mature individuals accept the fact that, as far as has
yet been discovered, we live in a world of probability and chance,
where there are not, and probably ever will be, absolute necessities
or complete certainties. Living in such a world is not only
tolerable but, in terms of adventure, learning and striving, can
even be very exciting and pleasurable.
Emotionally sound people are intellectually flexible, tend to be
open to change at all times, and are prone to take an unbigoted (or
at least less bigoted) view of the infinitely varied people, ideas,
and things in the world around them. They can be firm and
passionate in their thoughts and feelings, and they comfortably look
at new evidence and often revise their notions of "reality" to
conform with this evidence.
Acceptance of Social Reality:
Emotionally healthy people, it almost goes without saying, accept
was is going on in the world. This means several important
things: (1) they have a reasonably good perception of social reality
and do not see things that do not exist and do not refuse to see
things that do; (2) they find various aspects of life, in accordance
with their own goals and inclination, "good" and certain aspects
"bad" ─ but they accept both these aspects, without exaggerating the
"good" ones and without denying or whining about the "bad" ones; (3)
they do their best to work at changing those aspects of life they
view as "bad," to accept those they cannot change, and to
acknowledge the difference between the two.
Emotionally healthy and happy people are usually absorbed in
something outside of themselves, whether this be people, things, or
ideas. They seem to live better lives when they have at least
one major creative interest, as well as some outstanding human
involvement, which they make very important to themselves and around
which the structure a good part of their lives.
Emotionally sound people are able to take risks. They ask
themselves what they would really like to do in life, and then try
to do it, even though they have to risk defeat or failure.
They are reasonably adventurous (though not foolhardy); are will to
try almost anything once, if only to see how they like it; and look
forward to different or unusual breaks in their usual routines.
People who are emotionally healthy are usually glad to be alive and
to accept themselves as "deserving" of continued life and happiness
just because they exist and because they have some present or future
potential to enjoy themselves. They fully or unconditionally
accept themselves. They try to perform competently in their
affairs and win the approval and love of others; but they do so for
enjoyment and not for ego gratification or self-deification.
Rationality and Scientific Thinking:
Emotionally stable people are reasonably objective, rational, and
scientific. They not only construct reasonable and empirically
substantiated theories relating to what goes on in the surrounding
world (and with their fellow creatures who inhabit this world), but
they are also able to supply the rules of logic and of the
scientific method to their own lives and their interpersonal
Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
The Albert Ellis Reader: A Guide to Well-Being Using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy,
1998, pp. 235-252. Based on the 1962 essay titled "The Case
Against Religion: A Psychotherapist's View."
How to Live a Good Life: Advice from Wise Persons